Suicides feared over FMD crisis

An organic certifier has warned that hill farmers are in crisis, and the threat of financial ruin could be enough to cause suicides.

Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) has said the government should begin making immediate payments to hill farmers to stave off impending crisis.

Fears are growing by the day for the survival of UK hill farms as the FMD movement ban threatens to wipe out livelihoods.

OF&G said desperation was overtaking many hill farmers as millions of lambs which should be going to sale are trapped on hillsides with rapidly diminishing grazing.

Talk among its licensees of the imminent collapse of family businesses and even the fear of related suicides should not be ignored, the certifier stressed.

OF&G has called on the Government to begin making early payments to all hill farmers from Single Farm Payment and Hill Farm Allowance money that would normally arrive later in the year.

OF&G chief executive, Richard Jacobs, said: "We are looking here at a welfare crisis for both humans and animals and the destruction of livelihoods while movement restrictions are in place, because the lambs should now be going to sale. The whole year for these farmers is geared up to getting their income in the next two to three weeks, allowing them to pay their suppliers, re-stock and take their often already meagre living.

"While the movement ban, certainly in the short term, has to be necessary, one thing the Government could do is get money to these people ASAP - as in the next two weeks - to cover the gap, even if it's just 50% of their expected payment. This is deadly serious."

OF&G licensee Charles Armstrong, who farms near Alnwick, Northumberland, and would have normally now been buying thousands of store lambs from his hill farming contacts, said the knock-on effects of the movement ban were worsening the situation by the day. He explained that animals which should have gone for sale were now eating into grazing and feed that should have been for next year's stock, while all the time feed prices rise and the value of individual lambs was falling.

He said: "People are desperate and they don't know what to do. I really fear we are going to see an increase in suicides and certainly people's livelihoods are being destroyed. The Government was quick enough to guarantee people's savings when pictures of queues outside a building society appeared on television. What do the farmers need to do to demonstrate their suffering?"

OF&G is calling on Defra to begin making emergency payments immediately from funds that would normally be distributed later in the year.

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