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Hill farmers crisis
HILL farmers are being forced to cut back on their own food in order to feed their animals, according to a ‘shocking’ report.
Oxfam, which normally addresses hunger issues in places like sub-Saharan Africa, has published Challenges Facing Farmers. It claims that cash flow problems after an ‘incredibly challenging year’ mean farmers have to spend less on groceries and supplies to keep their farms viable.
Sedbergh hill farmer Alison O’Neill agreed there was real poverty among hill farmers in Cumbria.
“It is a really difficult time for hill farmers and it has been for some time. That is one of the reasons I diversified because I simply couldn’t survive with money from the farm alone.
“Cumbrians are very proud and there is an old saying up here, ‘say nowt’, so if we don’t have any money we tend to do without and try to get on with it. The prices for wool and livestock has gone up, but it hasn’t gone up much.
“A lot of people still think that if you have a farm you are well off but a lot of farms in Cumbria are still rented and I think there is a lot more poverty among hill farming than we would ever want to imagine.”
NFU Cumbria chairman Alan Dickinson said times were hard for the majority of upland farmers and had not been helped by yet another dreadful year of weather and ever-increasing livestock feed costs.
“Hill farmers are always up against it because they haven’t got many options,” he said. “This year the problems have been weather related because the grass hasn’t grown properly – a lot of hill farmers either haven’t got good quality forage or don’t have enough of it.
“The seasons have been very truncated. They would have normally been getting their harvest in during the first week of July but it has been the middle of August this year, which has a knock-on effect because then there isn’t enough of the crop for grazing. As well as this, food for livestock is more expensive.”
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has called for urgent government action to help upland farming families in Cumbria and the Dales.
Quoting official figures, Mr Farron said a single working-age adult living in a village needed to earn at least £19,820 to meet their needs. But some farmers in the uplands had an income as little as £8,000 a year.
He said: “This report is shocking but sadly puts in print what many of us know, that many hill farmers are working 80-hour weeks and living under the poverty line.”