Floods wreak farming havoc

Livestock farmers are facing tens of millions of pounds of losses following the recent floods and leaders are now calling for support from the supermarkets.

Animals have drowned, hay and silage crops are ruined and feed and water are running short. As a result, some farmers are now considering selling off their livestock. In the wake of this, the National Farmers' Union has repeated its calls for retailers to pay a fair price that reflects farmers' investments and encourages them to stay in business.

At three farms across the West Midlands, 1,171 sheep drowned, despite being moved several times to higher ground. The NFU has been supplying water to livestock farms where the supply is cut off so animals can be watered.

Gordon Halling has a 140-strong suckler herd near Tewkesbury and no mains water. He has feed for just 12 more days, he said. After that, he may have to start to sell his Black Herefords. "The 140 acres of hay that we haven't made is under water," he said. "Will it be justified for us to buy in feed for them? We are quite heavily stocked for the size of the farm because we rely on the river meadows for our hay-making and summer grazing."

The effects of the floods are not just financial, said Halling, who is not sure whether he can afford the feed to keep livestock through the winter. "It's our livelihood that's going," he said. "It's a way of life for us, it isn't only financial."

Peter King, chief livestock advisor for the NFU, said that while conditions are tough for farmers now, "the bigger implications will be later in the season", because of a lack of straw for bedding, rising grain and concentrate prices and forage availability.

King predicted no knock-on increase in meat prices for consumers, but called on retailers and processors to support those worst hit. "It is so important that the retailers and the supply chain give positive signals to the farming sector, because if they really want farmers and they really want the home-produce, which is what customers keep telling them, they need to understand that comes at a price," he said.

A spokesperson for Sainsbury's would not discuss whether it would re-negotiate farmers' contracts, but said: "It is very early days, but we remain committed to UK farming and we recognise we have a role to play. We continue to visit suppliers and farmers in affected regions to better understand the situation."

A spokesperson for Defra said it was considering applying for EU emergency aid for the farmers affected. In a statement, it said: "The government's focus is on restoring the functioning of basic infrastructure, providing temporary housing, emergency response, and immediate clean-up in the most timely and cost-

effective way.

"The government is looking urgently at the eligibility criteria for the fund and will make an informed decision on the merits of applying, once sufficient evidence has been gathered."