Drought and higher costs could ruin industry, say East Anglia farmers

Wheat fields Credit: PA Images

Farmers working in one of the UK's biggest agricultural regions have warned that droughts and rising costs due to inflation will “force people out" of the industry.

A lack of rainfall has forced an earlier harvest, and caused difficulties for storing and selling goods.

It comes as a four day amber warning for extreme heat comes into affect today (Thursday) in parts of England. High temperatures of up to 36c and little rain will be seen in some places.

Andrew Francis grows root vegetables and combinable crops in Breckland, Norfolk. He detailed the difficulties caused by early harvesting after the grain season only had 35% of its long-term average rainfall.

Andrew Francis’s farm in Norfolk Credit: Andrew Francis/PA

He said it was a “really difficult commercial environment to try and diversify in” because farming profit margins have “eroded so much over the last few years”, leaving no “resilience funds” for a lot of farm owners.

He said: “I can understand why people would [leave farming], and I can understand that there are a lot of barriers out there that make it difficult to look positively on the future.

“I think that is the problem, and that will force people out of farming.

“The reality is that in the high temperatures and the persistently dry conditions, we just haven’t been able to keep up with demand.

“There will be a negative impact but it’s very difficult to know how big that negative impact will be.”

Mr Francis urged farmers to “exhaust every avenue for help” and speak to “as many people as possible”, but he accepted some people had done so and would leave the industry regardless.

Due to the rising numbers of farmers leaving the industry, the government has offered the Lump Sum Exit Scheme which will provide a payment to help them.

Farmers are expected to either rent or sell their land, or surrender their tenancy in return for the payment, and have until 30 September to apply.

The scheme, which opened in April, followed a public consultation that revealed some farmers wanted to leave or retire from the industry but found it difficult for financial reasons.

Matt Styles, 27, from Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, runs a farm with his wife and has been struggling with feeling low due to the increasingly difficult conditions.

Because he is unable to live off his farm earnings alone, Mr Styles also undertakes contracting work on other farms.

He recently posted on Twitter about “one of the worst days” he has ever had in farming, detailing how he called the Farming Community Network charity helpline because he was “struggling to deal with what happened mentally”.

He said: “It was great to have a chat with someone that really understood what I was going through.

“Sometimes I think the only other person that could really understand what it’s like is another farmer, because I think a lot of us do go through the same stuff, or similar experiences, and sometimes it’s nice to chat about those things.

“I needed to reach out because sometimes when you are stuck in your own head, it can be a very lonely place to be.

“Often, I think what we need more than most, especially in the farming industry, with it being quite a lonely profession, is just human connection.

“That’s been the nice thing about Twitter, is people’s messages of support and love.”

Dry fields of grassland in Cornwall amid the hot and dry conditions Credit: Ben Birchall/PA

Hannah Buisman, 24, from Welwyn, Hertfordshire, works alongside her family on their farm, where they have traditionally grown cereals, oats, wheat, barley and beans but have diversified into growing vines.

Their harvest was also brought forward by the heat, so they were able to turn one of their traditional 15 acre cereal fields into a vineyard, as vines thrive in hot, dry weather.

Ms Buisman said: “It has been a real challenge because you are very concerned for the health of your crops because of drought and also the safety of your crops due to the fear of fire.”

She urged people who are struggling to talk to others in other linked sectors, as well as reaching out to friends and family to seek support where needed.


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