Galloway farmers have met Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead near Newton Stewart last week to outline the severe challenges being faced by Scottish agriculture following the recent severe weather.
Mr Lochhead was visiting John Kerr’s farm at High Barlay, near Newton Stewart. Mr Kerr, a new entrant to the sector, saw the loss of several hundred lambs under the snow when the storms struck last month.
Since the storms, the stress placed on the farm’s ewes because of the weather has resulted in further abortions and Mr Kerr estimates he will have lost 30 percent of his normal lamb crop by the time lambing is completed.
The snow has acutely affected many businesses across Scotland this spring, hitting both livestock and arable farmers. The cold spell has compounded the impact that weather had on Scottish farming in 2012 – one of the coldest and wettest years on record.
NFU Scotland members, including president Nigel Miller and regional board chairman Andrew McCornick, had the opportunity to thank Mr Lochhead and his staff for their support and assistance. The Scottish government has already made £500,000 available to soften the blow of paying to have fallen animals collected.
They also outlined NFU Scotland’s thoughts on an aid package for the industry and pushed Mr Lochhead for a prompt decision on the matter.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Miller said: “As soon as the storms hit in late March, it was clear the impact in areas like Dumfries and Galloway, Arran and Kintyre would be severe. At the earliest opportunity, there was an open line between farmers and the Cabinet Secretary and this visit is part of the dialogue that started three weeks ago.
“This visit to John Kerr’s farm brought Mr Lochhead face-to-face with the acute impact of the storms. John is a young farmer, clawing his way into the industry.
“Like a significant number of others, the storm has seen him lose many of his sheep and he faces a daily battle keeping those that remain alive until warmer weather can bring sufficient grass to sustain them.
“That effort of keeping stock going is replicated on many farms across Scotland. It takes enormous levels of energy and resilience on the part of farmers and shepherds but it also comes at a substantial financial toll to the business by way of additional costs on bedding and feeding.
“That is a level of cost that businesses will not have budgeted for and its impact on the financial health of the farm business will only truly be felt come the autumn when these farms have significantly fewer lambs to sell and finance is needed to replace any lost breeding stock.
“As an industry, these are exceptional times and we believe that merits consideration being given to a one-off aid package. A decision from the Cabinet Secretary and his colleagues on the shape of such a package is needed soon to allow businesses to plan ahead.
“A clear signal that support will be forthcoming could help pull businesses back from the financial problems they may face and give some certainty to those who may face discussions on cash flows and overdraft facilities with their bank.
“A package would also help relieve the pressure that is building up on many families within Scottish farming and help them see more clearly where their future lies.”
Mr Lochhead said: “I know the severe winter weather parts of Scotland has experienced has been devastating for our farmers, particularly as it has come at lambing time and when they are also dealing with rising feed costs and demand for more feed.
“For many farmers, it was the worst snow in living memory and has caused real problems. I saw this at first hand tomorrow when I visited High Barlay farm and met farmers to hear more the challenges they are now facing and discuss whether further support is required.
“We have highlighted there are a number of other sources of potential support already available, including RSABI – for whom the Scottish government recently announced support of £50,000.
“I have also given my support to the NFUS in asking the banks to take a sensitive approach to farmers at this challenging time.”
South of Scotland MSP Aileen McLeod joined Mr Lochhead on his visit. Dr McLeod said: “I was delighted that Richard Lochhead was able to visit Galloway so soon after the very severe weather which has had a significant impact on the local farming sector. The snow coincided tragically with lambing, causing very significant losses for sheep farmers in particular.
“But I agree with NFU Scotland that further support will be needed since many farms will not be able to calculate the full scale of their losses until their surviving lambs are sold later this year.
“I also hope that the banks, finance companies and general supply chain to the industry will be sympathetic to the fact that many will have suffered considerable losses, the full effect of which may not be seen for some months yet. A sympathetic approach now may save a viable rural business in the long run.”