Warning ‘brutal’ start to year will haunt struggling farmers

FARMERS will be counting the costs of a “brutal” start to 2013 for years to come, according to new research released today.

A survey by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, released for National Countryside Week which begins today, reveals that consumers are “overwhelmingly supportive” of farmers, yet know very little about the “severe crisis” affecting the countryside.

Following the heavy snow at the start of this year, farmers are still counting the cost of losing livestock and reduced yields.

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However, a separate YouGov poll revealed that less than a quarter of the British public would describe the country’s farming industry as “in dire straits” and “facing the worst crisis since foot and mouth”.

Only five per cent of those surveyed correctly estimated that more than 100,000 animals died as a result of the snow and poor weather between January and April.

Prince’s Countryside Fund trustee Lord Donald Curry said: “We’re facing a silent crisis in the countryside.

“One in four farming households are living in poverty.

“Livestock farmers are struggling with reduced herds that will have a knock-on effect for several seasons. Arable farmers are looking at a 30 per cent reduction in crop yields.

“Farmers are seeing increased levels of indebtedness and the number of farmers quitting the profession is on the rise.

“Thirty dairy farmers quit the industry in the month of April alone.”

He added: “Summer might be in full flourish, but we need to remind people that farmers will be counting the costs of a brutal start to the year for some years to come.”

The YouGov poll also showed that the majority of the British public think a UK hill farmer earns more than they do, with 59 per cent of respondents thinking such farmers earn more double the average annual wage.

However, a recent report by Rose Regeneration and Oxfam revealed that the average annual salary for a hill farmer in County Durham is just £12,600, with some earning as little as £8,000 a year – considerably less than the UK minimum wage.

Only one per cent of those surveyed correctly stated that the average age of a farmer was 58, with the average age from respondent estimates being 13 years younger at 45.

A spokesman for the Prince’s Countryside Fund said: “With 60,000 new entrants required, it is vital that young people are inspired to join the industry.

“Agriculture is at the heart of the British economy and approximately a £4.7bn industry, and yet our survey tells us that 58 per cent of respondents undervalued the income generated by the British agriculture industry in 2012, and a massive 25 per cent of respondents said they didn’t know what agriculture contributes to the British economy.”

National Countryside Week, which runs until next Sunday, aims to raise awareness of the importance of the countryside to the UK and the “serious issues facing our rural communities”.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund spokesman added: “With 24 per cent of the population living in rural Britain, National Countryside Week gives us an opportunity to remind people of the value of the countryside and reflect on how we can protect it and support our farmers.

“The photos of the floods and devastating livestock losses may have disappeared from our screens, but the stark reality is the true cost of the crisis is still being counted.

“However, there are some positive signs, with 88 per cent of 
the British public thinking it’s important to maintain and protect rural areas in Britain, and the majority of those currently living in London confirming that they would rather spend their time in the countryside and value the farmers who work tirelessly to maintain it.”

Other findings from the survey included 81 per cent of respondents saying it is “important” to buy British produce as a way of showing support for the British farming industry.