The NFU has hit out at Defra Secretary Michael Gove for failing to offer any support to farmers still suffering from the effects of the summer drought, warning ‘a bit of rain does not wash the problems away’.
The union’s president Minette Batters called on Mr Gove to take urgent action, pointing out Governments in Scotland, Wales and across the rest of Europe have already put in place measures to help farm businesses.
A new survey carried out by the NFU which polled 600 members found 71 per cent of farmers have suffered a negative impact because of the weather.
The results also showed 78 per cent of farmers using forage were expecting a shortfall in feed reserves this winter.
Ms Batters said: “We admired the Secretary of State’s words of reassurance when he attended the NFU’s agricultural drought summit last month, but we are yet to see meaningful assistance to farmers who have to deal with the long-term impacts of the extreme weather.
“We have prompted the Secretary of State to, as a priority, be flexible on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) greening rules and agri-environment schemes.
“These rules and schemes, as it stands, mean many farmers cannot graze or cut grass from certain areas of land. But Government can apply to the EU Commission for a derogation to allow farmers to graze or cut grass from this land temporarily.
“Without these derogations, farmers face huge uncertainty over whether feed stocks will last the forthcoming winter and what increasing costs they will be facing if they do not.”
The union has also called for additional flexibility on water abstraction licensing, support for additional forage and bedding costs and for overdue farm payments to be issued as soon as possible.
Ms Batters added: “The Secretary of State said he would do ‘whatever it takes in order to make sure farmers can continue to run successful businesses’ after the summit last month.
“This is Government’s opportunity to show meaningful support for the British farms which have been left so exposed to the extreme weather. We know the Secretary of State values British food production, but despite the recent turn in the weather, we still need to see action.”
A Defra spokesman said: “Since the NFU’s drought meeting on August 1, we have taken a number of steps to ease the pressure on farmers.
“We have already negotiated flexibility from the EU Commission to waive penalties for farmers who are unable to establish cover crops – indeed we were the first EU member state to raise this issue.
“We have recently gone further and asked the Commission to allow farmers to sow these areas with grass or other forage. We expect to hear back from the Commission this week.
“We have also approved over 60 applications for flexible water abstraction licences for farmers to safeguard food production and animal welfare. This combination of measures will make a real difference to farmers struggling as a result of the dry weather.”