Devon farmers forgo their own food to feed animals
Hill farmers on Dartmoor and Exmoor are so concerned about feeding their livestock throughout the coming winter that they are cutting back on their own food.
They are taking drastic action by slashing their weekly grocery spend, according to a report for the charity Oxfam.
Their action follows the poor harvest domestically and around the world, with rain-lashed fields yielding poor returns in England, and drought on the prairies of the USA's Mid West meaning animal feeds are rocketing in costs, the maize and soya crops failing in many parts.
In this country, main grain harvest yields have plummeted by as much as 15% on some land. While a window of fine weather allowed a modest return on South West winter-sown barley, and Westcountry oats were generally good, the national picture was bleak.
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Feed prices are bound to rise in the coming months, the situation exacerbated on the high moors by poached ground ruined by livestock grazing through the wettest summer for a century.
The Oxfam report, Challenges Facing Farmers, was discussed at a meeting in London on Friday attended by Dr Stuart Burgess, the Government's Rural Advocate, and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The study states: "It is harder for upland farmers, who are highly dependent on livestock, to make a living out of agriculture. Poverty is a severe and stifling condition that is becoming more intense."
The situation should be alleviated to a considerable extent with the arrival of farmers' Single Farm Payment cheques before Christmas, provided they are on time. Jim Paice, the former Farming Minister, chaired and saw through the upgrading process to good effect last year, so that most producers got their subsidies on time, but some were still months late.
The position of uplands farmers was getting to a stage where a vulnerability index should be drawn up to categorise and prioritise support, said the Oxfam report's co-author Dr Jessica Sellick.
"We need to think about the sort of support we are offering to farmers," she said. "A vulnerability index would help identify those farmers most in need of support and those most reliant on off-farm income."
The report, and the London meeting, came just a week before a major conference takes place in the Westcountry to look in detail at the challenges and solutions facing farmers on Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor.
The South West Uplands Federation is holding its third biennial conference on Friday at Exeter Racecourse. The federation, a grouping of organisations from the three moors, claims positive progress was made at previous conferences. But then farmers were not facing this year's extreme shortage of forage.