Friday, 10 September 2010

compiled by Sue Tucker the Rural Officer for Devon.

There is a time for working and a time for resting, a time for ploughing and a time for sowing, a time for dressing and a time for harvesting, there is time for lambing and a time for the byre, a time for the field and a time for the market and a time for the desk, there is also a time greatly to be longed for, when all is completed and God is all in all

 Weather records indicate that the first six months of this year have been the driest for the last ninety years. Due to the absence of Atlantic “rain bearing” weather systems to maintain soil moisture reserves and sustain growing crops, many farms across the UK are reporting lower volumes of conserved forage than required and cereal growers are concerned about the impact of the moisture deficit during the critical June period on grain fill and subsequent yields. That much of Europe is similarly effected has led to a sudden increase in cereal prices as traders fear a shortage, though given the size of last years world carry over and the UK’s 10% increase in winter wheat plantings, this may be premature.

After a turbulent start to August prices wheat markets have ended the month on a somewhat quieter note. Harvest delivery prices ranged from £133 to £140/t up on average £20.00 a ton dearer than last year depending on region. Persistent rain across much of the country at the end of August has raised concerns about the quality of crops still to be cut but, with a week of dry sunny weather forecast for the last week in August many farmers will be trying to get crops in.

The relative calm may be short lived with the on going uncertainty of, if and when the Ukraine decides to limit exports and whether Russia will need to import grain in 2010-2011.

According to the National Beef Association, beef producers will quit in droves unless prices improve. Low prices, heavy import competition from Ireland and too much prime beef going into mince were the main problem. Finished prices have fallen all year and many producers are operating below cost of production, with costs set to escalate on the back of rising feed and bedding prices calves bought last autumn will lose £300 a head. The supply chain was giving the right signals about the security of supply on a long term basis but the current approach showed the market was failing to deliver. Producers must start to get a fare share of the retail price if they are to remain in production.

The number of dairy farmers in England and Wales has halved in the past ten years and the UK herd has reduced by 270,000 cows over the same period. Milk yield per cow has increased 12% in the last twelve years but the UK milk production in 2009-2010 was the lowest since 1971-1972. Milk prices show a slight increase on last year the average now being 24.11 ppl. but prices are still 2.2ppl below their market return equivalent.

Higher grain prices have left many livestock farmers watching their feed costs spiral, but pig producers face a particularly tough autumn. Feed accounts for 55-60% of the cost of production for pigmeat, so the rise in prices of key ingredients over the summer—mainly wheat, barley and soya- could force many businesses into the red, after only a relatively brief spell of better returns.

Latest figures suggest the average cost of production for English pig production will rise to 146.35/ per kg by November, up from 136.5/per kg in July and almost 20p more than the average of 127.9 per kg. Those costs compared with a current dead weight average pig price that has slipped over recent weeks to around 145/kg.

Even if producer prices maintain their current value, the industry is forecast to be making a loss by the final quarter of 2010. All European pig industries face the same challenge from rising feed costs and profitability would rely on pig price movements in individual countries over the near future.

 The poultry industry is facing the same sorts of pressure in relations to feed costs and with the rapid rises many producers have been unable to protect themselves by forward buying. They are therefore taking much higher production costs on the chin without a corresponding increase in what they are being paid for broilers and eggs.

With an increase in production of both broilers and eggs the failure to pass on price rises could force more producers out of business

Lamb prices are forecast to remain relatively strong for the third year in a row, as dwindling supplies more than compensate for any reduction in high street sales. The firm market position was primarily driven by a lack of old season lamb carry over accompanied by a contraction of around 6% in both the breeding flock and overall sheep meat production. At the same time, the harsh winter is likely to rule out any further improvement in lamb percentages. For the current season, the 4% decline in the ewe numbers recorded in last June’s agricultural survey suggests this years lamb crop will be around 2.25% down on 2009. Culling rates are anticipated to continue at the relatively high rate of 16% seen for the past two years, with a particular loss of hill ewes resulting in a further increase in the proportion of the national flock in low land areas.

Overall the forecasts predict total sheep meat production will be around 294,000t in 2010 against 305.000t in 2009- a fall of nearly 4%

With sterling assumed to remain relatively weak against the euro, tighter sheep meat supplies on the continent and strengthened export marketing activity from the levy boards, exports are forecast to continue growing in 2010 although at less than the 9% growth of the past year.

With little prospect of a rapid recovery from recession, and with retail lamb prices remaining relatively high, although lamb farmers are not immune from the rising cost of feed and bedding, and with the overall domestic consumption in 2010 forecast to decline to around 320,000t it will do so at almost exactly the same rate as production falls, which implies relative buoyancy and stability in the market for another year.

Farming is now officially the most dangerous industry. Thirty eight agricultural workers were killed at work between April 2009 and March 2010. Seven members of the public were also killed in work related accidents in the sector. In addition to farming’s death toll there were more than 100.000 injuries of which 20,000 were serious debilitating injuries, although the true picture is unknown because farming is the worst sector by far for under reporting injury.

Public support for farmers reaches a five year high. Three quarters of people think of farmers favourably or very favourably up from 68% in 2005. With a growing demand for food as the world population increases, 86% of people agree that farming will be more important in the future. 52% of people strongly agreed that farmers should grow crops for bio-fuels and, a similar proportion said their trust in farmers would not be undermined if they came out in favour of GM crops while 17% were strongly opposed to GM crops being grown in Britain. NFU president Peter Kendall said “These figure clearly demonstrate that the general public supports British farming and recognises the importance of food production to our future.

With the ever increasing problems that bovine Tb presents to our farmers particularly here in the South West and other hot spot areas the government is to consult the British public over an English badger cull. Those with any knowledge or understanding of the disease stand firm on a need for a cull, the badger society with huge financial backing are still opposing a cull. I have written long and hard on this subject and have written a statement to DEFRA on the pastoral side of this disease and its effects on farmers here in Devon A cull is the only way forward to eradicate this insidious disease which has far more reaching effects than foot and mouth ever had. The badger, infected with TB is an extremely sick animal, and dies a slow and lingering death pushed out from its set when unable to be part of its community. The badger definitely plays a very significant part in the spread of the disease not only to cattle but to alpacas and lamas, and especially in the wild deer population, it is now being found in pig herds and has spread to domestic animals and human beings. Those in favour of a cull wish to see healthy sets left in place and a healthy cattle population and the countryside free from the disease.

Farm Crisis Network, the Rural Stress Helpline,  ARC-Addington  and the RABI still play a very significant part in help given to our farmers and their families at difficult times. With the recession like many other charities they are finding their income down on previous years, both rely heavily on volunteers who give up many hours to help within our farming communities.

One of the main factors which FCN and the Rural Stress Helpline is involved in is depression and stress. The average farm income is lower than the average household income. With some earning less than £8.000 a year; one in four farming families are living on or below the official poverty line.

Loss of earnings has been caused by the increased dominance of supermarkets, leading to more competition among farmers, who in turn have pushed prices down. Other factors like animal disease such as Bovine TB and welfare issues have also led to a loss of earnings.

There are a lot of difficulties facing farmers now and when it comes to work this all has an impact. These day’s because of mechanisation, loss of farm income and the cost of labour, it’s generally one man and his tractor, so isolation is a major factor in causing depression and stress both in older and young farmers alike.

A young woman who has worked on a dairy farm since she left school tells how farmer’s are under a great deal of pressure to do things as quickly and as efficiently as they can but, that does mean you can often be working on your own for a long time. The isolation can get to you—especially if you’ve got no one there as an outlet to talk to. You probably have too much time to think about stuff and it plays around your head all day long. Another young farmer said a large proportion of his working day is spent alone or just with your animals and they don’t answer back so you miss seeing people. You can feel quite isolated. You do have days off and sometimes these feelings of isolation can escalate and you feel a bit out on a limb because you are out in the sticks. It is a stressful job with lots of deadlines too meet and a bit of extra help and support would go a long way. If more people were aware of it, it would be easier to prevent people feeling so low.

FCN say’s its dealing with an average of 3,000 cases a year to help people with stress and depression, but it thinks the problem is much more widespread. Rural areas often lack local services for people to access mental health information and in many cases people won’t admit to suffering depression because they feel embarrassed about it.

To find out more about the farming help organisations or telephone the helpline 0845 367 9990(daily 7am to 11pm)

Resources for Harvest Festivals are available on  and  on
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