Aid will help but 2013 is a write-off for many

“For the most affected farms there will no immediate relief in 2013 and there will be a hard road back to perhaps more normal production in 2014.”

So said NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller in his most recent blog before going into stakeholders meetings this week to thrash out details of where the £6million aid package for farmers, announced by Scottish Government last week, should go.

“Today, in May, many farmers are still buying feed and striving to support stock. The aid package provides a potential lifeline that can bridge the hardest-hit businesses into summer weather,” the Stow livestock producer wrote. The public cash is for farms hit by bad snow in March, though others have also been identified, he said, adding: “There are extreme situations in other sectors, including crop losses, which have the potential to threaten the future of businesses.”

The challenge to this week’s industry group is to identify all the farms “where weather has significantly eroded the capacity to produce” and to come up with a way of responding quickly “at an appropriate level”, he said.

“Aid is not a total solution, but it can inject funds to pause cashflow pressure and provide a pathway forward.”

And he urged banks to be flexible with overdrafts and restructure lending.

Fellow Borders farmer and NFU Scotland vice-president, Rob Livesey, said the job of deciding where the aid money should go would be “extremely difficult”.

“If the funds are spread too wide then the benefit will be too small to make a difference to those businesses.”

He expects Borders farmers to qualify for some help: “We probably suffered more than many in the last 12 months, but were less affected than the west by the March storms.”

Latest figures show a surge in sheep and cattle deaths from the start of the year, with Scotland hit worst, recording fallen stock up by over 35 per cent on last year between January and April.

NFU Scotland’s livestock policy manager John Sleigh said causes would be disease, nutrition and the weather, but that “a significant number” will not be accounted for because they may still be lost, under snow, eaten by wild animals and, where the snow hit worst, farmers were allowed to bury dead stock.

The statistics also exclude special pick ups of larger than usual numbers, likely after the March snow.

Last year Peeblesshire, Selkirkshire and Berwickshire were the wettest since Met Office records began, while in Roxburghshire rainfall was the third highest the area had experienced.

And Gatepost, RSABI charity’s confidential listening service, saw a “significant acceleration” of calls from October, receiving four times as many in February from farmers in financial and/or emotional difficulty, compared to the previous year.