Back to website


11:00 - 28 August 2004 Farmers in the Westcountry have been outraged by comments from the Government's rural adviser that the foot and mouth crisis did not have as bad a financial impact as the poor harvest caused by this summer's wet weather.

Lord Haskins said the bad weather was having a "worse" impact on arable farmers than the foot and mouth outbreak had on livestock farmers four years ago.

"For arable farmers in a sense it is much worse, because there is obviously no compensation from the Government," he told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today.

Farmers in Devon and Cornwall were quick to point out that compensation because of foot and mouth disease was awarded only to those farmers whose stock was culled, while those who were placed under restrictions - Form D farms - faced the cost of looking after stock that they could not do anything with.

Anthony Gibson, regional director of the South West National Farmers' Union (NFU), dismissed Lord Haskins' comments as a "ridiculous comparison".

"Wet harvests are an occupational hazard. It is just something that most farmers have to take in their stride," he said.

"The weather is always with us. Foot and mouth disease is in a different league. It has been a difficult harvest, but by no means the worst. I think some farmers who suffered the effects of foot and mouth disease would feel insulted by Lord Haskins' remarks.

"I doubt that he meant any harm, but it is a quite absurd comparison between the trauma and tragedy of foot and mouth disease and a difficult harvest."

St Austell farmer Michael Hart, chairman of the Small and Family Farmers' Alliance, said: "I've got ten acres of silage waiting to be cut that I can't get on with because of the weather, but you don't get the same feelings with crop failure as you do with livestock problems.

"You don't get a lifetime's work in growing an annual crop in the same way that you do in rearing a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep.

"I wasn't directly affected by foot and mouth, but I was affected financially because I couldn't move animals. The thing with foot and mouth was that there was also the knock-on effect on other industries, particularly tourism."

Martin Hann, chairman of Devon NFU, said: "It's a strange comparison for Lord Haskins to have made. Farmers are used to the vagaries of the weather and it has been bad this year, but you can't compare it with foot and mouth because that was certainly a case where farmers up and down the country were waiting on every development to see how it would affect their business or even if they would be able to stay in business."

Lord Haskins told Farming Today that the damage caused to crops by the wet weather was "disastrous" and with low grain prices arable farmers could lose up to £100 an acre.

Peer under fire for FMD remark

By Paul James, The Journal

North farmers last night hit out at a top Government adviser who said bad weather this summer would cost them more than the foot-and-mouth crisis.

They said the summer rain was nothing compared with the devastation of 2001 and labelled comparisons made by rural adviser Lord Haskins ludicrous.

He maintained the weather was having a worse impact on arable farmers than the foot-and-mouth outbreak had on livestock farmers four years ago, and the damage caused to crops by the wet weather was disastrous.

Farmers throughout the North-East and Cumbria are facing their worst harvest for 40 years, which Lord Haskins said would cost arable farmers about £100 an acre.

The impact, he said, would be worse than that of foot-and-mouth because the Government would not compensate farmers for their ruined crops.

But Northumberland chairman of the National Farmers Union Stoker Frater, who has both crops and livestock at Alnwick, said it was time for farmers to stop feeling sorry for themselves.

He is calling on colleagues across the county to pool their combine harvesters to make sure they are prepared to move as soon as crops are ready.

Mr Frater, hoping to salvage fields of winter barley worth £9,000, said: "We've had a poor harvest - nobody is denying that - but you just have to make the best of it.

"To compare it to foot-and-mouth I think is ludicrous. He was wrong in that respect. Foot-and-mouth was a horrendous situation to put farmers in, with the deaths of all their animals.

"It isn't like that for arable farmers. If you get a bad crop, you get a bad crop. There's other things that can affect them and we know it's a high-risk business. We've about 40 acres of winter barley which should have been harvested about a month ago and it's still in the ground. We hope to be able to salvage at least 50pc of that.

"We've about 150 acres of wheat to harvest yet. I know for a fact some of it is growing again but we'll hopefully get 80 or 90pc of that.

"Let's pull together and get the job done instead of whingeing about what the Government is going to pay us.

"That's what annoyed me about Lord Haskins. How does he know when more than half of the crop is still in the ground? A few days of good weather make a massive difference. Let's at least be optimistic that's going to happen. It's only August and September is traditionally harvesting month."

Farmers who wish to join the combine pool should contact an NFU office.

For all today's farming news turn to Page 96

Weather is blamed for killing burn's rare trout

Dozens of dead fish were victims of the North's recent storms, officials revealed last night.

Up to 100 trout and perch were found dead in the South Low, near Haggerston, Berwick, Northumberland, earlier this month, which baffled scientists.

The fish, with mystery damage to their fins, were taken for lab tests.

Now Environment Agency chiefs have blamed the heavy rain for washing sewage into waters already deemed of marginal quality for the sensitive trout.

Officials will now monitor the area to see whether trout can be reintroduced. The South Low is important as a wild trout stream and the fish it sustains are genetically distinct, as it is not joined by any other watercourses and flows straight into the sea near Holy Island.

An investigation was launched on August 8 when Environment Agency workers reported damage to the trout unlike anything they had seen before.

They found 40 to 100 dead fish. For such a minor watercourse, the number of dead fish was considered unusually high.

Water samples were sent to specialists while ecologists investigated the affected area for damage to other water life. But a spokesman last night said: "We believe the watercourse is of marginal quality to support trout and the recent weather we've been having has affected its condition.

"More sewage has discharged into the stream, which probably just tipped the balance over in terms of water quality for the trout. We believe this was down to the general weather conditions.

"The damaged fins can be as a result of long-term poor water quality. We've also done tests on the other fish and there has been no effect on them…

"It's something we'll have to keep an eye on."

Rainbow prayer

Churchgoers across the country will this weekend pray for farmers trying to cope with deluged crops.

Church of England national rural officer Jill Hopkinson said two agricultural chaplains had written special prayers for the farming community.

She said: "They reflect the difficult nature of this year's harvest and the uncertain future many arable farmers might be facing.

"They encourage churches to think about the harvest and be mindful of the fact that many of the crops that would normally be in by now are instead rotting away."

Ms Hopkinson said churches in rural parishes would continue their prayers throughout the harvest festival. The prayer asks:

When God did use rain as a punishment -

Noah and all that -

there was a safe place for the few

and a rainbow at the end.

In this rain there is safety for the many of our land -

the world market means food for the supermarket shelves

even if it has been taken from the plates of the world's poor.

It's the small band of producers who are afraid of being wiped out.

What about a rainbow for them?