Machinery fires and arson attacks have left farmers with a £6.2 million bill this harvest, new figures have revealed. Ruth Wills reports...
Provisional statistics for July 2018 showed the cost of claims to NFU Mutual more than doubled on July last year, with costs expected to rise when incidents in August have been incorporated.
Fires have devastated crops, straw and machinery this harvest, raising concerns over safety and placing additional financial and emotional pressure on farmers.
The Mutual’s rural affairs specialist Tim Price said: “Early indications are that 2018’s exceptionally dry hot summer has led to a significant increase in claims costs for fires involving crops and farms machinery – mostly combines, tractors and balers, together with field fires.
“Our claims teams are dealing with dozens of claims for damage resulting from field and machinery fires involving combines, tractors and balers.”
In Kent, Guy Eckley baled his straw at Eckley Farms, Tonbridge, to help fellow farmers fill the fodder shortage this year – but then lost 350 bales in an arson attack.
Mr Eckley said: “It is frustrating, we do not normally bale any straw – we are a no-till, controlled traffic farm – but as it has been really dry this year we thought we would do our bit for livestock farmers – then someone goes and sets fire to it.”
Fires had also been an issue in Hertfordshire, where Robert and Jo Hodgkins lost 4ha of a standing crop and 16ha of straw, while a neighbour lost a further 16ha of straw in the same incident.
“I could see thick black smoke over the hill and knew something was wrong,” said Mr Hodgkins.
Fire officers tried to fight the fire, but it rapidly got out of control - 10 fire engines and a mobile unit spent five hours tackling the blaze while friends and local farmers also helped with cultivation equipment.
Mr Hodgkins believes a flint hit the combine knives and ignited the fire. Although managing to save the machinery, Mrs Hodgkins suffered burns on her legs.
“It was very scary – the speed of the fire was incredible – it went straight up the hedge and into the next field,” added Mr Hodgkins.
“But it was a fantastic demonstration of the farming community in action."
Alongside lower yields and the fodder shortage, any added pressure could also have a detrimental effect on mental health, said Charles Smith, chief executive at the Farming Community Network.
He said: “We are bracing ourselves for a very busy winter - all the extra stress will almost certainly have a huge impact on the mental wellbeing of many in the farming community.”