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Suffolk: Farmers fear for future as emergency aid soars 53% - but employment figures rise

PUBLISHED: 16:11 02 April 2013 | UPDATED: 17:32 02 April 2013

Farmers are fearing for their future following a fresh outbreak of disease, the wettest summer in 100 years and a prolonged wintry spell.

Farmers are fearing for their future following a fresh outbreak of disease, the wettest summer in 100 years and a prolonged wintry spell.

THE WETTEST summer in 100 years, a fresh outbreak of disease, escalating animal feed costs and an arctic winter delaying spring has led to a 53% increase in the amount of emergency financial aid being given out to Suffolk farmers.

But new figures show the number of employed farmers, labelled “resilient” and “used to the British weather” by union chiefs, is increasing across the county.

Full-time farmers climbed from 1,885 to 1,900 between 2009 and 2011 – the latest figures available under freedom of information laws – while part-time numbers shot up from 2,071 to 2,259.

Total labour also jumped from 8,132 to 8,541.

Yet some farmers are casting doubt over their future.

Emergency grants given to Suffolk farmers was £91,800 last year, up from £60,100 in 2010 – a 53% climb – The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) said.

On a national scale, £100,000 was given out in January this year by the RABI – compared to £30,000 in January 2012.

Gordon Davies-Morris, 74, has farmed all his life. He tends to more than 250 ewes in his 30-acre site at Holbrook Gardens, Holbrook.

But he lost around 100 lambs last year. Each one markets at £70-100, but he blamed the Schmallenberg virus blowing up the River Orwell for costing him thousands of pounds.

Spread by insects, the disease leads to malformed newborns in pregnant ewes and cattle, and reduces milk production from cows.

“The disease didn’t show up until too late,” Mr Davies-Morris said. “It’s been tough. We were hoping for an early spring but I am picking dead lambs out of the snow.”

In 2006, barley cost £70 a tonne. Today it is £225. Wheat has doubled to £215 a tonne, soya has shot up from £250 to £450 while peas and beans are also surging in cost.

“Rising food prices are very damaging,” Mr Davies-Morris said. “Corn nuts are now £300 a tonne. I would say it’s 50/50 whether I’ll survive at the end of next year. A lot of farmers are saying the same thing.”

Government figures for 2012/13 revealed a steep fall of 44% in average incomes for beef and sheep lowland producers in England.

The country had its wettest year on record in 2012, leading to high disease levels in arable crops and driving down wheat yields to a 23-year low.

Brian Finnerty, spokesman for NFU East Anglia, said it was testing times for farmers.

“The land is less arable and farmers can’t plant their crops. They are saying they haven’t seen fields as bare as this for a long time,” he said.

“It is causing higher food costs, which affects the quality of animal feed which can lead to milk yield reductions.

“It is frustrating but our farmers are resilient. They are used to dealing with the British weather.

“It is good seeing the numbers of farmers going up and I see bright prospects ahead.”

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