Westcountry farmers driven close to suicide
Farm charities are seeing a record number of requests for help from Westcountry farmers, after the worst summer since 1912 depleted feed stocks and caused prices to spiral.
In some areas the workload has doubled, with volunteers even faced with potential suicides as farmers simply cannot take any more.
"In extreme circumstances we are doing everything we can to stop people from killing themselves," said Peter Clarke, the Farm Crisis Network co-ordinator for Cornwall. "The workload has increased enormously."
And it is not just small family farms that have been hard hit. Medium-sized and large farms are also suffering, and seeking help from the charities, he said.
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Four charities helping farmers cope with the legacy of this year's extreme weather are to benefit from a £150,000 donation from Prince Charles's countryside body – and another £150,000 from the Duke of Westminster, one of the nation's largest landowners.
The Royal cash comes from the Prince's Countryside Fund.
Prince Charles called a meeting on Monday evening with the leaders of the four rural charities to discuss the issue and it was agreed the fund would donate its entire emergency kitty of £150,000.
The money will help farmers struggling financially following the winter drought and wet summer which has led to a shortage of grazing land, low stocks of fodder and a poor harvest, compounded by the rising cost of feed and fuel.
During the meeting at Clarence House, Prince Charles said: "I have been growing increasingly concerned about the many difficulties which farmers from all sectors are facing – and are likely to face – this winter and so I thought it was important for us to come together, hear what we each have to report and then I want to see what I can do to help through my Prince's Countryside Fund.
"When I set up my Countryside Fund in 2010 I and the trustees decided from the start that we would always keep a lump sum available to be used for any farming emergency. Some of you have already received help from this fund in the past. But I think we are all agreed that many British farmers are facing an emergency situation and so I am very pleased that the trustees agreed we would divide £150,000 between you."
The four charities involved are the Farm Crisis Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Addington Fund, which provides housing for farming families entering or leaving the industry (including two developments in Cornwall) and the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution.
"These donations from Prince Charles and the Duke are marvellous news," added Mr Clarke. "There are so many problems facing the industry at present and the increase in the number of cases and their complexity is very considerable."
Mr Clarke heads a team of five other volunteers, all farmers or retired farmers, who understand the problems and can react at once when there is a crisis. There are similar teams in Devon and Somerset, which cope with a considerable percentage of the charity's national workload.
"If something happens you can't wait until tomorrow. You have to react at once," he added.
Usually Mr Clarke deals with four new cases a month, but now it can be up to eight, and there are always around 30 "repeats" to be handled. Very often the volunteers find themselves dealing directly with agents and bureaucrats to help their clients.
Mr Clarke added: "The farmers seeking our support come in all sizes. I have had a farmer milking several hundred cows who finds that because of the quality of this year's silage they are just not producing the volume of milk expected – and he is in despair."
Prices have rocketed because of the shortages, with wheat straw selling at £90 a tonne delivered and barley straw £120. And much of the grass grazed had little nourishment in it because of the wet weather. The poor harvest also means that animal-feed prices have risen very considerably.
Then there are concerns about diseases, like bovine TB and Schmallenberg Virus, causing havoc among herds and flocks in the region.
Mr Clarke added: "The Single Farm Payment money that farmers are receiving is acting as a financial cushion – but it won't last for long – so the more help that comes our way the better."
Now was when many farmers needed extra cash, particularly if they were buying fertiliser, which would be more expensive in the spring.