6 November 1998

Sodden flax men could be thrown lifeline

By Andrew Blake

FLAX growers with drowned crops could be thrown a lifeline after a mid-week meeting.

With up to two-thirds of this years flax still unharvested following late sowing and one of the wettest Octobers on record, contractors and Intervention Board staff were expected meet to activate the "exceptional weather" clause in contracts.

That could permit producers, unable to harvest fields wrecked by torrential rain, to still qualify for subsidy, provided claims are backed by detailed case reports. Currently there is no derogation allowing payment on unharvested crops, stresses an IB spokesman.

Mark Jones of Surrey-based contractor Attlee has 115 growers with about 2630ha (6500 acres) this season. "No more than a third is safely baled and a lot is still standing."

This years crop started badly with 80% sown in May instead of April because of wet weather. Despite the damp June there were some very good crops by September, says Mr Jones. But almost continuous rain since then has made harvesting impossible. "It has been a wash-out and in some cases could bankrupt people."

He is optimistic that the meeting could provide salvation for affected growers.

Nigel Bazeley, for Hants contractor Robin Appel also hopes growers will get favourable treatment. He reckons half his firms 6500ha (16,000 acres) covering about 400 producers is lost. "Its horrendous, but we dont expect any of our growers to be disadvantaged."

Second-year flax grower Tony Marsh of Manor Farm, Brandis Corner, Bradford, Holsworthy, Devon is keen to see official recognition of this seasons extraordinary conditions. "We have had 10.5in of rain in the past 10 days and we had only two dry days in October."

He has cut only a tenth of his 40ha (100 acres) of Viking on contract to Robin Appel, and field travel is impossible. His contract forbids baling above 16% moisture. To qualify for the minimum £465/ha (£188/acre) subsidy growers must produce 1t/ha (8cwt/acre) of processible straw.

Already all the seed, estimated at 1.2t/ha (10cwt/acre) and worth about £7000, has shed and some plants have been ripped off and blown away by gales, he notes. "It has just been a nightmare. Ill do anything to salvage it, but if the straw is going to be no good thats pointless.

"My worry is that I will have spent £100/acre growing it and stand a good chance of getting absolutely nothing back."

We have been encouraged to grow non-food crops, but as soon as we do we get hammered."

[POINTS BOX]

Flax wash-out.

* Only half harvested.

* Subsidies at risk.

* Midweek IB meeting.

* Field reports key?