Jon Bright recently met with Tom Cackett, County Adviser NFU for Buckinghamshire, Berkshire & Oxfordshire. During the meeting, we discussed the economic difficulties facing many farmers currently, the health implications these difficulties can lead to, and what could be done to prevent this problem from arising. There are a number of interlinked problems.
Prices for most agricultural commodities continue to remain under significant pressure, with rising global output and subdued global demand, being the key drivers behind lower prices. The average price farmers are receiving for commodities compared to last year, shows a marked decrease; the average milk price has dropped by 25.2%, lamb has dropped by 17.2%, pork by 17.6% and wheat by 4.3%. The impact of these low prices is clear to see, UK farm businesses borrowed a record £17.1bn in the year to the end of July. This was an 8.4% increase on last year and marks the fourth year in succession that borrowing has risen by more than 7%. Although estimates vary, up to 40% of new borrowing is thought to be for coping with cash flow difficulties. With long production cycles and high levels of investment, it is often difficult for farmers to recognise or reverse periods of financial hardship.
Glyn Evans, Regional Director for the Farming Community Network and President of Community First Oxfordshire commented that “the bureaucracy associated with modern farming can be overwhelming. For many, farming is now also an isolated business… not only do more and more people work long hours alone, but the weekly trip to market where they would once have talked to people who understood their problems is now a thing of the past. Farmers are by nature private people who do not readily share their problems and concerns.” The isolation and high pressures associated with agriculture, makes it a ‘High Risk’ suicide category according to the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research.
Considering the contribution agriculture makes to both the national and local economy (currently worth almost £10 billion nationally), we would like the Oxfordshire LEP to fund a project aimed at providing an annual financial appraisal service for farms and rural businesses. This would be help farmers and rural business owners recognise which parts of their business are suffering or excelling. It would also provide farmers with an opportunity to discuss concerns or business strategy with suitable professionals and thus prevent future difficulties.