A crisis summit attended by Prince Charles has heard that a “perfect storm” of depressed prices faces farmers this winter.
The Prince of Wales attended the summit, which was convened by the Prince’s Countryside Fund, at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, on Friday (23 October).
Many farm businesses were vulnerable and on the brink of collapse following a summer of low farmgate prices, warned the charity.
Farmers were also battling red tape, complex applications to vital funding streams and the fear of delayed payments, it said.
The summit was attended by Defra minister George Eustice and other important figures from the sector including farm charities, the banking industry, and landowner associations.
Chaired by Prince’s fund trustee Lord Donald Curry of Kirkharle, the event sought to raise awareness of the “help at hand” for farmers from the banking industry and landowners.
Lord Curry said: “Britain’s farmers are facing a perfect storm this winter.
“The depression in prices across the main agricultural sectors has been unprecedented in recent years.”
Volatility in milk prices alone had held the news agenda for months, said Lord Curry.
British lamb and beef prices had been hit by weak export trade and domestic demand.
“The depression in prices across the main agricultural sectors has been unprecedented in recent years”
Lord Donald Curry, Prince’s Countryside Fund
He added: “The fact that all commodity prices are so seriously compressed at the same time is almost unparalleled.
“The security and diversity of British food production is too important an issue to disregard.”
Set up at the behest of Prince Charles in 2010, the Prince’s Countryside Fund has given £6m in grants to 135 rural projects, directly benefitting 160,000 people.
Lord Curry said it was vital that farmers facing adversity felt able to ask for help to access the advice and support that would see them through challenging times.
“All too often farmers struggle in isolation,” he said.
Rural charities that form the Farming Help Partnership said they were being called upon to support farms that could previously be considered as sound businesses.
There is also concern that a growing number of desperate farmers are taking extreme measures to survive – such as seeking higher-rate loans from lenders and adding to their debt.
“The legacy of today’s summit will be to foster greater collaboration and communication between key players in the agriculture sector”
Claire Saunders, Prince’s Countryside Fund
The Farming Help charities are offering workshops and training to frontline and senior bank employees to help banks understand the advice and support available for farmers.
Prince’s Countryside Fund director Claire Saunders said the role of the fund was to help ensure the sustainability of British agriculture and its wider rural communities.
“The legacy of today’s summit will be to foster greater collaboration and communication between key players in the agriculture sector,” she said.
“By fostering a greater understanding of the challenges facing farming we will go some way to help to solve them.”
“Through the work of the Farming Help Partnership, the projects we support and our emergency fund there is valuable and much needed help for farm businesses.
“With the steadfast support of the wider sector, we can collectively commit to help secure a brighter future for British farming.”