The charity warns that many UK farms businesses are vulnerable and on the brink of collapse following a summer of significant lows in farm gate prices, pressures of administrative burden, complexity of applications to vital funding streams and the fear of delayed payments.
The summit, chaired by Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Trustee of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, was attended by Defra Minister George Eustice MP and key figures from the sector including farming help charities, the banking industry, and landowner associations to find practical solutions to ease the crisis. The overwhelming message of the summit was to raise awareness of the ‘help at hand’ for farmers, from the banking industry and landowners.
Lord Curry said, “Britain’s farmers are facing a perfect storm this winter. The depression in prices across the main agricultural sectors has been unprecedented in recent years. The volatility in milk prices alone has held the news agenda for months. British lamb and beef prices have been hit by weak export trade and domestic demand. The fact that all commodity prices are so seriously compressed at the same time is almost unparalleled.
“The security and diversity of British food production is too important an issue to disregard. It’s vital that farmers facing adversity feel able to ask for help to access the advice and support that will see them through challenging times and help make their farm businesses resilient to market forces. All too often farmers struggle in isolation.”
The current downturn in farmgate prices has led to a worrying trend; increasingly even in ‘normal times’, the charities that form the Farming Help Partnership are being called upon to support farms that could previously be considered as sound businesses. There is also concern that a growing number of desperate farmers are taking extreme measures in order to survive such as seeking higher-rate loans from lenders and adding to their debt.
To prevent farm businesses resorting to higher rate loans, a firm commitment was made by the Farming Help charities to offer workshops and training delivered to frontline and senior bank employees to help banks understand the advice and support available for farmers in need.
Director of The Prince’s Countryside Fund Claire Saunders said: “The role of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, now more than ever, is to help ensure the sustainability of British agriculture and our wider rural communities. This is why our Patron HRH The Prince of Wales will be announcing essential research commissioned by the Fund into the consequences of failing to support a diverse farming sector. The legacy of today’s summit will be to foster greater collaboration and communication between key players in the agriculture sector. By fostering a greater understanding of the challenges facing farming we will go some way to help to solve them.”
“Through the work of the Farming Help Partnership, the projects we support and our emergency fund there is valuable and much needed help for farm businesses. With the steadfast support of the wider sector, we can collectively commit to help secure a brighter future for British farming.”
Pictured: Claire Saunders, director of the Fund, greeting HRH The Prince of Wales, Lord Curry of Kirkharle and Elizabeth Buchanan, inside the Prince’s Countryside Fund, with Lord Curry, HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Devonshire