Charities are fighting to stop farmers committing suicide after the worst summer since 1912 triggered crippling increases in food prices.
Pleas for help to agricultural support groups have hit record levels – with small family farms, medium-sized businesses and large operations plunging into the red.
“In extreme circumstances we are doing everything we can to stop people from killing themselves,” said Peter Clarke, a Farm Crisis Network co-ordinator. “The workload has increased enormously.”
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. 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 last winter’s 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, 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 I and the trustees decided from the start that we would always keep a lump sum available to be used for any farming emergency. I think we are all agreed that many British farmers are facing an emergency situation.”
The four charities involved are the Farm Crisis Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Addington Fund, which provides housing for farming families, 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. There are teams in Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Devon and Cornwall which cope with a big part of the charity’s national workload.
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. The poor harvest also means that animal-feed prices have risen very considerably. Then there are concerns about bovine TB and Schmallenberg Virus, causing havoc among herds and flocks in the region.