All safely gathered in? Maybe not – the challenges facing our farmers
The weather has made this year an extremely challenging one for many farmers. How can we help those in our communities at a time when the harvest is coming in but the emotional, economical and practical pressures of achieving that have been a very high price to pay?
For sheep farmers the problems began in the autumn of 2017 when prolonged cold and damp affected ewe fertility. The snow and cold temperatures of the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived at lambing time and there were losses of new lambs and ewes as well as cattle. Resulting in cash flow problems with fewer lambs to sell in the autumn and higher prices for replacement ewes.
The cold spring meant grass growth was very slow to get going, and, as livestock needed to be housed much longer than usual, the stocks of silage and hay were completely used up. The late spring delayed silage and hay making, and then almost no sooner than it had been made, the rain stopped.
As the dry conditions took hold livestock farmers had to start feeding forage intended for winter feeding, fuelling anxiety about next winter’s feed supplies.
Farmers desperately need a kind autumn and a short winter
Few will have been able to produce as much silage as normal and this, coupled with early feeding, will lead to forage shortages and higher prices. This creates further problems when hay/silage stocks run out before the winter is over – causing more stress and financial pressures. Farmers desperately need a kind autumn and a short winter.
In the arable sector, the cold spring meant that many spring-sown crops were sown late and established crops had their growth affected. The fine weather has at least made for an early and easy harvest, but lack of rain in June and July means yields are down. There will be regional variations as to the quality and amount of grain, fruit and vegetables that are harvested
How can we in the church help our farmers?
Revd Caspar Bush was a dairy farmer till 5 years ago when he sold his cows to become a clergyman. Today he is team rector of the five churches in and around Redruth and knows first-hand about the issues facing our farming communities. he says, ‘This year has created a powerful reminder of the vulnerability of many farmers’ and growers’ businesses. It’s a stark reality that the two things which affect farming fortunes far more than anything else – the weather and the market – are things which farmers have absolutely no control over.
“Thank God, the farmers and growers who produce our food are usually very resilient and resourceful and most will find a way to struggle through this year. But the worries for all are very real and relentless, and some will be facing severe financial difficulties and even insolvency,” says Revd Caspar Bush.
Clergy working across our rural farming communities are urging people, especially as harvest time is upon us, to remember to ask people how things really are. Not to make assumptions.
Harvest Festivals are a great time to check on any farmers you know, to pray for them and encourage them.
Revd Caspar says, “Harvest festivals are a great time to check on any farmers you know, to pray for them, and encourage them in the work they do in good times and in bad.” Giving thanks for the food is obviously important, especially now, but it is really important to recognise the extra workload and stress that this year has caused. Unfortunately, some of the effects will continue into next year and beyond.
So, everyone is urged to keep listening to our farming communities and see how the church may be of help. There is an effective network of support and charities out there that it would be very helpful to be aware of to signpost to those who need help.
Forage Aid supports farmers whose livestock has been affected by extreme weather event by providing forage and/or bedding to those in need.
Farming Community Network FCN walk with famers offering a listening ear; they are not a grant making body
Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution RABI make grants towards household expenses
Addington Fund help with housing if someone needs to leave the farm and also make discretionary businesses expenses