David Richardson: You are not alone

I had an email from a friend in Herefordshire the other day. Harvest didn’t finish there until well into October and some were still drying grain. The same person had visited Shropshire, where in places the situation was even worse. Some fields had been abandoned as unharvestable and much autumn drilling had been written off.

Another Norfolk friend visited Northamptonshire, close to Silverstone. Huge areas there that would normally be drilled with rape and wheat were still stubble and only a small proportion of the land that had been ploughed showed any sign of growing crop.

Here in Norfolk, a neighbour who farms many more acres than me said he would be at least 500 acres light on his winter grain cropping this year. The land was saturated and he saw little prospect of getting more drilled this side of spring. Meanwhile, the seed – expensively dressed and paid for – sat in his barn alongside the fertiliser bought last summer at the top of the market.

An Irish farmer I’d met at a Cereals event a few years ago phoned the other evening. Harvest across the Irish Sea was even more difficult than in Great Britain, but he had at last managed to finish combining. The trouble was, he’d not sold it until the price had dropped. The previous year he’d sold it too soon to make good prices. He too had bought nitrogen forward. He asked how he could avoid making mistakes like that again. I couldn’t tell him, because I had made some of the same mistakes myself.

Another Norfolk neighbour received a letter from his bank, increasing the interest rate on his overdraft. He was very angry – more because it had been done without consultation than with the increase itself, which he regarded as almost inevitable because of the financial crisis.

An international farm machinery manufacturer I met recently asked if I could explain why trade in the UK had almost stopped, whereas in most other countries it had merely slowed because of the recession. I could not give an informed reply, but the implication was that the crisis was more acute here than in other countries.

All of which suggests there’s a fair bit of stress out there, with the likelihood, as we look forward to next year’s prices, that it will get worse before it gets better.

The launch of a new support network last week was, therefore, appropriate and timely. A joint initiative between the Clan Charitable Trust in Norfolk and the Rural Stress Centre with a national outreach at Stoneleigh, it is entitled You Are Not Alone (YANA).

It offers confidential advice and support to farmers and other rural workers who are often isolated and are recognised as high risk. It targets such individuals and those who have dealings with them and asks them to watch for symptoms of depression and to point out that help is available if they phone 0845 094 8286. Lives could be saved by doing so.

More from David online

  • Is Justin King, boss of Sainsbury’s supermarkets, deliberately trying to antagonise British farmers? Recently at Cirencester College, he said, and I paraphrase, that buying British in preference to imported food was “simplistic” and pandered to the “fashion” of worrying about food miles. Buying from African farmers really helps them, he went on, and he claimed concerns about the distance such goods had to be transported were misplaced. This attack feels like the beginning of a PR campaign to persuade Sainsbury’s customers it’s OK to import even more.
  • Read David Richardson’s blog


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