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Growers anxiety mounts as volatile harvest weather threatens livelihoods

Many farmers are worried for the future as unseasonal wet weather continues to hamper this year’s harvest. Farmers Guide caught up with Suffolk rural chaplain Graham Miles and farming charity FCN who offered advice for those who are struggling.


Sights of unharvested crops, flattened fields and emerging disease greeted Lightwave rural and agricultural chaplain Graham Miles on recent visits to Suffolk farms following weeks of unrelenting wet weather.


Seeing first-hand the damage caused to crops by persistent heavy rain, he is worried for the well-being of farmers who have already endured unprecedented challenges over the past year.


“It’s just one thing after another with farming at the moment.


“I’ve been out this morning, going towards Flatford and Dedham, and there’re still acres of standing crops there. A farmer was saying that having to do certain fields when he can and then go back to them, it’s just a total nightmare,” he told Farmers Guide.


“All this causes stress and anxiety, not just for them, but for their families as well, and the farm workers, so it’s a snowball effect.”


Rise in mental health calls


Mr Miles said he’s received an increased number of calls over the last few weeks from farmers in distress, some of whom have reported feelings of depression and even suicidal thoughts.


Although losses have been suffered right across the board, he noted smaller growers are taking the greatest hit as they rely on the harvest coming in to continue farming.


Many also depend on contractors to bring in the grain due to the high cost of machinery. However, if harvest is unable to proceed because of wet weather, it means lengthy delays for famers who have to wait for the next available slot to have the crops brought in.


According to the Met Office, last month has been provisionally the wettest July since 2009, with some parts of the country receiving twice as much rain as the yearly average. This stands in stark contrast to June, which has been the hottest on record in the UK.


For those struggling to cope in the midst of unforgiving weather and economic challenges, the chaplain’s advice is to reach out to charities such as Lightwave, FCN or YANA who are there to help.


“I can’t wave a magic wand, but the Lightwave rural and agricultural chaplaincy team is here for farmers, we can listen to them, they can offload onto us and we understand their problems. That’s what we’re there for, 24/7.”


“We can only control what we can control”


For Bruce Paterson, who runs Worstead Estate, a mixed arable and Wagyu beef farm, with his brothers Gavin and Alex, the conditions have been slightly challenging – but they have a suite of other crops and income besides cereals coming into the business.


They have also diversified out of agriculture too, and are looking to do more in this area to minimise the risks to the business.


While fertiliser prices are not as high as they have been, they are still higher than usual, the grain price is on the floor and rain is affecting the crop, Bruce said. Fortunately, the farm has not had a lot of crops that have lodged, and it’s been a fairly decent combine – but quite a few crops south of Norfolk are lodged, he said.


“We can’t control the weather, we can only control what we can control, and do the best we can. There will be people who will be struggling and hopefully the people who had a good year last year have kept some capital on the side that will help them sit through a tougher year.”


“That feeling that the nation is against you”


Alex Phillimore, head of communications and development at the Farming Community Network (FCN), said one impact of the recent conditions is farmers are having to spend more money to dry out crops – at a time when energy prices remain high.


Farmers have also been working into the early hours of the morning – and in some cases facing abuse from the public for working late. A since-deleted video recently did the rounds on social media, showing a farm worker being verbally abused by a member of the public for combining at midnight.


“I don’t blame the public for not necessarily understanding the ins and outs of farming because they have limited exposure to farming,” Alex said. “[But] you’re trying your best to harvest, ultimately to help feed the nation, and so that feeling that the nation is against you and the job that you’re doing is difficult, it puts a lot of stress on people


“It doesn’t help your mental health at all when you feel like the people you’re trying to help are against you.”


Working such incredibly long hours also creates other stresses, perhaps increasing the likelihood of an accident, being dehydrated and not eating well – all of which will have an impact too, Alex added. Plus profits will be down if the quality of the product is reduced due to high moisture levels.


“It reminds us all of the unpredictability and lack of control in farming, which has mental health implications.”

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