Farming's frontline: Tales of hardship and resolve

As the industry battles with dreadful weather and soaring costs, four farmers tell Charlie Cooper of their personal struggles

The combined impact of a year of dreadful weather, two livestock diseases and soaring feed costs have left Britain’s farming facing their worst crisis since foot and mouth.

With Britain forced to become a net importer of wheat for the first time in a decade, as reported in The Independent  on Saturday, farmers have been speaking out about the personal impact of a year that has cost the industry £500m, according to the National Farmers’ Union.

“We had BSE, and foot and mouth twice. There’s always been something… this is the worst winter and spring I’ve known in 30 years,” said Angela Sargent, a farmer in Derbyshire, who lost corn to last year’s wet weather, cattle to bovine tuberculosis and lambs to both the Schmallenberg virus and snow. The NFU wants the Government to do more to help livestock farmers who have lost stock – up to a thousand lambs in some cases – by paying for the disposal of carcasses. It warns that dead animals are being stacked in farmyards  as the snow thaws.

Angela Sargent: It’s the worst winter and spring in 30 years of lambing

Angela Sargent, 54, has a 240-acre tenant farm near Etwall, Derbyshire, raising 100 beef cattle and 200 sheep, and corn to feed the livestock.

It’s been a grim year. It was so wet in 2012 we struggled to sow all that we needed for this year. Now half of the crops that we did manage to get in have failed and the other half aren’t growing because it’s so cold.

We were temporarily cut off by the spring snow. It was blowing straight in to our sheep shed. Normally the lambs would be dry, warm and snug in there, but it was freezing and snow was getting into the mothering pens so we lost many. I would bring them into the farmhouse kitchen and try and warm them up by the old range cooker. We tried all sorts, even drying them off with hairdryers. But we had lambs that died there in our kitchen.

It’s something people don’t understand. Of course you’re rearing them ultimately for slaughter, but you want to give them as good a start and life as they can have. It’s such a shame to see them die like that. But it’s out of your hands. It’s the worst winter and spring that I’ve known in 30 years of lambing. We’ve also been affected by the diseases that are spreading at the moment. We had two lambs born without eyes, we think because of Schamallenberg virus. Three weeks ago we found TB in one of our 10-year-old cows. The financial impact has been big – on the crops alone we’ve lost £30,000.

I don’t think there’s anything much anyone can do, nobody can control the weather. We’ve considered giving up, but I don’t want to yet, and I don’t know if we’d be able to.

My husband is a third generation farmer. Our children aren’t going to go into farming, so we will be the last generation of this family on this farm.”

Alistair Mackintosh: We found frozen lambs in the snow

Alistair Mackintosh, 54, has a farm near Ravenglass, Cumbria, with 1,000 ewes, 100 cows and growing oats.

We had horrendous snow during lambing time – and lost over 100 lambs and more than 20 ewes. That’s small compared to some of my neighbours. Some of them have lost hundreds, maybe near 1,000. This was two weeks ago – we had 48 hours of blizzard conditions. It was a whiteout –  I had no idea exactly where I was, even on my own farm. It was scary.

We went out on the Friday and the Saturday to try and rescue sheep and make sure they had feed, but we had to give up – we were putting ourselves at risk. Once the storm abated it took us three days to dig our way back into the fields.

Then we started to find frozen lambs under the snow. It was horrendous. A terrible time. I’m looking at losing in excess of £10,000. With the added cost of the extra feed you can put another £10,000 on top of that – a very expensive winter.

To help us through this we need consumers to get behind us, to stick by our product. I want them to look at farmers and say: “These guys are doing a good job and giving us a good-quality product”. Some of the poor lads near me have lost so many sheep they will be looking very hard at their business and doing some serious soul-searching.”

Guy Poskitt: Nature has a way of correcting itself

Guy Poskitt is a second-generation farmer in Kellington, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. He raises cereals, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and swedes across 10 sites, with 17 full-time staff.

We lost an awful lot of crops in the past winter – perhaps about 20 per cent of it. Now we have this very cold spring, which will mean the crops that are in the ground are growing slowly and the soil’s still very wet underneath.

Carrots, parsnips and swedes are our speciality and we’ve lost around 10 per cent of them – a financial loss of more than £150,000. Conditions are very bad in the north. There’s a substantial amount of land that will not be able to be farmed for arable at all this year, it has been that wet. In certain areas 30 to 40 per cent of the land will have to be left alone.

Farmers want to farm and they’ll want to get out and try and make something of it. But nature has a great way of correcting itself. Good growing conditions over the next few weeks could sort us out. It’s not all doom and gloom. But we have to be realistic. It’s a high-risk job.”

Tim Papworth: No whinging, but this is hard

Tim Papworth, director of LF Papworth Ltd, from Felmingham, north Norfolk, is a fourth-generation farmer with 5,000 acres, growing cereals, oilseeds, peas, beans, potatoes and maize.

It’s been difficult to manage the weather, but that’s one of the things us farmers have to do – we have to take what we’re given. We have potatoes left in the ground that we should have lifted in October. The quality and quantity won’t be so good. Many will have rotted away with the cold temperatures and wet soil.

This cold spring has put us back significantly on many of our crops. Potatoes are about a month behind – that will impact later in the year. It’s difficult, but we manage, and we don’t like to whinge about it. The long-term outlook is good.

Farmers are needed to feed the population, which is increasing, and export markets are expanding.

Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit