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Farming opinion: Snow, floods, heatwaves - who’d be a farmer?

PUBLISHED: 06:18 18 August 2018

Paul Burrows, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI). Picture: KEVIN MILNER

Paul Burrows, chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI). Picture: KEVIN MILNER


Chief executive of farming charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) Paul Burrows on a challenging season for those in the sector

Workers bringing in the 2018 vegetable harvest near Woodbridge. Paul Burrows is expecting a busy winter for RABI Picture: BRIAN FINNERTYWorkers bringing in the 2018 vegetable harvest near Woodbridge. Paul Burrows is expecting a busy winter for RABI Picture: BRIAN FINNERTY

Snow, floods and heavy rainfall in spring… then, one of the hottest, driest summers in living memory. Who’d be a farmer?

Scorching summer temperatures have turned our green and pleasant land a distinct beige colour. Wilting crops is obviously a major problem, but so is feeding livestock when there’s precious little grass for cows to graze.

Many fruit growers have also complained that their crops are ripening too quickly and it’s too hot for their workers to pick them, whilst providing thirsty animals with enough water to drink is another issue.

We’ve not seen weather like this in decades – and it’s worth remembering that it comes hot on the heels of a particularly wet summer in 2017. Farmers have been forced to constantly reassess and change plans for some time now, having had to house cattle indoors much longer than usual in March and April, depleting valuable food stocks in the process.

At RABI, we have seen quite a big increase in enquiries for assistance during June and July – 145, compared to 90 for June and July in 2017.

There are lots of reasons why people come to us for help including illness, accidents, homelessness, relationship breakdowns, problems with claiming state benefits and animal disease. Often, hardship is caused by multiple issues coming on top of each other, rather than one single factor. When people have been struggling with insufficient income for some time, something like the recent heatwave – and having to give stock winter feed – can tip them over the edge. Reacting to what the elements throw at you is part of a farmer’s life and most farmers accept that. However, extreme weather creates extreme challenges and it can be impossible to plan for anything.

Farmers are proud people who, in our experience, do not readily seek charity. Many of those we support only contact us when they’ve nowhere else to turn, when they realise ‘putting their heads down and working even harder’ is not a solution to their problems.

As things stand, I’d envisage a busy winter for RABI. We find there’s often a time lag between someone suffering hardship and contacting us for help so drought-related issues will last long after the rains have come. A lot of farmers will be playing catch-up through the autumn and possibly beyond.

During difficult times RABI can help farming people in financial need by providing grants for domestic and household expenses. We’ll tailor support to suit needs.

To find out what we can do for you call our Freephone Helpline 0808 281 9490.

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