Devastating financial impact of weather on farm incomes
Farmers throughout the South West took a big cash hit in the last financial year, in some cases losing nearly half of their expected income.
As alarming statistics were released showing the true effect of appallingly bad weather during 2012, farming leaders have appealed for Government commitment to ensure agriculture continues to trade realistically.
The data, released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, showed farm incomes toppling as the effect of the poor growing season and lamentable harvest was felt across both the arable and livestock sectors. A dry cold spring, leading to poor crop establishment, was followed by a deluge, which saw low-lying areas like the Somerset Levels under water for months on end.
Incomes on typical South West mixed farms fell by nearly a half, to an average of about £38,000. Total farm production fell by almost a quarter during the financial year.
In a region noted for its exceptional grazing qualities, large falls in income were registered, up to 48%, on the average lowland grassland farm. Upland farmers on grazing holdings were less hard hit, but also took an average dive in incomes of 33%.
Although milk output was up during the year, farm business incomes on the region's dairy farms dropped by around 40% to an average of £51,000 – largely caused by the increased cost of feed and the need to feed more because of the state of pastures.
And grain farmers saw incomes drop by around a quarter because of the poor growing season, and costs for seed, fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides all rising.
To add to the problems, the Single Farm Payment subsidy – calculated in euros – was on average 12% lower than the previous year, because of the pound strengthening against the euro. But farmers need direct support payments, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) is arguing.
And the publication of the data coincides with consultation on the future of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, with proposals for a greater share of the cash available to be channelled into rural development schemes.
That was where Government support was needed, said Melanie Squires, regional director of the NFU in the South West.
"From agricultural lenders to retailers there's an understanding of the pressures faced by our industry and I know organisations from across the supply chain recognise the long-term potential of farming," she said. "But we need similar consistency and support from the Government to enable our farming industry to be resilient, rather than leave significant parts of it at risk."
She stressed that the weather of 2012 will shape farming's fortunes in the current financial year, particularly the knock-on impact of planting problems last autumn on this year's cropping.