Farmers count the cost of a destructive winter

PROLONGED periods of cold weather led to last year being a record-breaker for insurance claims for farmers, with some of the region’s vegetable growers warning that the bad weather will have decimated some of this year’s crops.

The arctic weather in December alone led to just under 6,000 claims from farmers for damages to their farms, businesses and homes. The final figure being claimed for is said to top £34m.

Yorkshire, along with Scotland and North Eastern England was named as one of the worst affected areas by the ice and snow.

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The news comes in the same week the large-scale organic food company Riverford warned its customers that all of its purple-sprouting broccoli and cauliflower crops had been ruined by the severe winter weather.

John Kenny, chief claims manager with the NFU Mutual insurance company, said: “Coupled with the very cold spell in January 2010, December’s icy blast has made 2010 the worst year in our 100-year history for cold weather claims.

“The worst affected areas for snow damage in both events were the North East of Scotland and the North East of England where snow falls of over two feet led to hundreds of farm building roofs collapsing under the weight of snow.

“Spending a day in Yorkshire visiting customers who had suffered the most serious damage I was struck by the sheer scale of destruction.

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“The heavy snowfall caused a trail of collapsed buildings – including the catastrophic collapse of a brand new milking parlour.”

The visit to Yorkshire has formed part of a review of how snow and ice claims are dealt with by the company.

Mr Kenny added: “After a long run of mild winters, 2010 has been a reminder that ice and snow can wreak tremendous damage. There are lessons to be learned, particularly about the construction of farm building roofs and the siting and insulation of water pipes.

“As a mutual insurer, no one is more important to us than farmers and the rural community, so our first priority was to get emergency repairs under way for people whose property or vehicles had been seriously damaged. At times like these, our network of over 300 local offices across the UK comes into its own.

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“Working on farm roofs is dangerous at the best of times but in deep snow the risks are even greater.” Farmers also faced astronomical fuel bills over the winter with some having to use several times the levels of heating oil they would normally do due to the long periods of snow and ice.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, the severe weather conditions left vegetable producers with whole crops ruined.

Riverford Organic is warning all its customers to expect delayed supplies of two key winter staples this year, with farmer Peter Richardson’s purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower crops at Home Farm near Northallerton described as a write-off.

Mr Richardson’s farm usually harvests an abundance of purple sprouting broccoli from January to April but this year some varieties have been completely killed off, whilst others have stunted growth and aren’t producing the tender side shoots.

He said: “This has been a particularly tough winter, with temperatures dipping to -16°C.

“As we’ve been farming for generations, we are used to taking the rough with the smooth.”