Grants to help struggling farmers pay for food and heating increased SIX-FOLD because of Spring’s Arctic weather conditions, we can reveal.
In the first half of this year the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) charity paid out almost £120,000, compared to £20,000 during the same period last year. And the warning is things are set to get worse.
RABI regional welfare officer Mel Jones said: “What was a regular occurrence was that people could not afford to buy oil for the farms. What they were doing was buying feed rather than keeping their own houses warm.
“That happened a lot and we were buying oil or helping people to buy oil. That takes the pressure off the family at home.”
Others were spending money on food and “anything domestic.”
In the first six months of the year 67 families in Wales appealed for help from RABI, which exists to help them with household costs. Farmers are still asking for help.
“Our grants have gone up,” Mel said. “In the same period last year we paid out just over £20,000 in the first six months in Wales. It has gone up to £119,000.”
In one week in Spring Mel visited three farms where between 150 and 200 sheep had died at each one.
“The emotional effects were devastating,” he said.
“One farmer said he had not seen snow like that since 1947, which was apparently the worst weather on record last century.”
The RABI cash was part of a half a million pound package put together by the Welsh Government and delivered through charities.
Farmers are expected to need more help in the Autumn, when they sell their much-diminished remaining stock.
Often the trauma has been visible in rural homes.
“We have had farmer’s wives crying because of the stress they have been under,” Mel said. “It has been very hard for people.”
Gareth Wyn Jones became the face of stricken hill farmers when he was pictured digging sheep from 15ft deep drifts in Snowdonia.
He worries sheep farming in Wales is “dying fast”.
The 46 year old said: “We lost 80 ewes, bearing ewes, and we lost hundreds of lambs. Not until we sell our lambs are we going to know what the cost has been.”
One of his neighbours lost “nearly half” his flock.
“If you are on £30,000, and someone says we are knocking you down to £10,000 a year, that is the type of thing that people are having to face,” Gareth said.
Tens of thousands of animals died across Britain as a result of the extreme weather. Crossbench peer Lord Curry – a farmer and businessman – has dubbed the crisis “worse than foot and mouth”.
Gareth has been campaigning for shoppers to buy Welsh and British in a bid to battle the problems facing farmers.
“In 10 or 15 years we don’t know who will be up here farming,” the dad of three said. “This is the problem we have. The average age of a farmer is 58 and it is not an old man’s game.”
He wanted the government in Cardiff Bay to help more.
“As things are going family farms are dying fast,” he said.
NFU Cymru president Ed Bailey said last year’s wet summer followed by the freezing spring made it “difficult to cope”.
“The result of the cold weather was that there are less lambs to sell, the lamb crop has been substantially reduced,” he said.
“And bearing in mind the hard weather and spring, what has happened is that farmers have spent more on feed and extra feed.”
That left farmers with “a cash flow problem”, he said.
The Welsh Government claimed its response was “far more comprehensive than that in other parts of the UK”.
It said Natural Resources and Food minister Alun Davies had “fought hard” for a Common Agricultural Policy settlement that was “fair to Welsh farmers”.
A spokeswoman said: “The guaranteed support that CAP provides is one that no other business enjoys and farmers must seize the moment and utilise this opportunity to improve the resilience of their businesses and shape a farming industry that is profitable, sustainable and fit for the future.”