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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Floods spell 'crisis' for farming
By Victoria Bone
BBC News

Animals on flooded farm
Livestock have drowned and their winter feed has been destroyed

As the waters slowly recede, experts say the floods will leave a disaster for British farming in their wake.

Farmers' livelihoods have been devastated across the UK by the June and July deluges.

And now the impact looks set to hit the rest of us in the form of food shortages and raised prices.

Peter Davis, managing director of fruit and vegetable distributor Davis Worldwide, says the public will feel the pinch and see gaps on their supermarket shelves until at least next April.

"I don't want to exaggerate the problem we've got, but if I say it's a crisis, I'll be telling it exactly like it is," he told BBC Radio 4.

"We're only cropping 15 to 20% of what we should be.

"One supermarket buyer asked me, 'When will we be able to go back to retailing cauliflower at 39p?' I said 'Never'.

"Those prices are gone. I really believe we will never see them again."

'Disaster zone'

According to NFU vice president Paul Temple, the effect on flooded farms is "phenomenal in terms of productivity".

Farmers are also angry, the union says, because they believe much of the flooding could have been prevented if they were allowed to build dykes and ditches as they see fit, rather than having to devote land to conservation instead.

In the West Midlands alone, the NFU estimates losses will run into tens of millions of pounds.

Among the crops worst hit are potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and peas.

One NFU member in north east Herefordshire is believed to have lost 500,000 worth of potatoes.

Our costs are unbelievable. We're throwing away 60 to 70% of the crop
Peter Davis
Food distributor

In Hereford and Worcester, dairy farmers have had to pour away thousands of pounds worth of milk because delivery tankers couldn't reach them through the floods.

As well as the farms hit most recently, those in South Yorkshire and East Riding which were flooded in June can, the NFU says, "only be described as a disaster zone".

Between 40% and 60% of the region's pea crop - the majority of which goes to make frozen peas - was destroyed, and more than 1,000 acres of potatoes and field vegetables were lost.

Christmas dinners could even be without sprouts this year.

And most crops are not insured. Farmers protect their buildings and machinery, but most accept damage to crops as a trade risk and aren't covered for it.

Ian Bell, from farming relief charity the ARC-Addington Fund, said: "I think we're going to see a disaster. Some of the losses are huge.

"I was on a 600-acre arable farm the other day and the cost of the lost crop and all the investment that had been made was 220,000.

"We're also going to see serious knock-on effects on cropping for several years.

"For example, potatoes. They've been ruined, it's not worth lifting them, but how are you going to get the next crop in if the ground is full of rotten potatoes?"

'No free market'

And potatoes are a particular cause for concern.

William Chase, founder of Tyrrells crisps, said 50-60% of his potato crop could be lost - 25% because of the flooding itself and another 25% from blight because sodden crops cannot be sprayed.

Mr Chase, who farms in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, told the BBC: "There's no free market any more.

"Most of the these crops are contracted, so if you have contracted your crops and you lose half - even if the market is very expensive - you have not nothing left to sell on the free market."

People are going to have no choice but to get rid of their animals
Ian Bell
ARC-Addington Fund

The British Potato Council said farmers' costs had increased "significantly" due to the weather, but that the true level of shortages wouldn't become clear until the September-October harvest.

Livestock has also been hit. At just three West Midlands farms, a total of 1,071 sheep have drowned.

Much more widespread is the loss of hay and silage crops which are vital to make winter feed.

Mr Bell said: "I was on a farm on Monday with 120 cattle and calves and every one will have to be sold because there's nothing to feed them. People are going to have no choice but to get rid of their animals."

David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, told BBC News 24 the flooding had come at the worst possible time.

"This is the time of year when you really make your money on a farm," he said. "In cash-flow terms alone, it is a really horrendous thing for our members to be facing."

Broccoli and peas

Normally, supermarkets and processors would look abroad to make up for a home-grown shortfall.

But bad weather in Europe - floods in the north and west and extreme heat in the south and east - means foreign substitutes aren't available.

Gaps on the shelves are inevitable.

Davis Worldwide would normally handle 30 to 60 pallets of broccoli a day - now they have just three or four.

One farmer in the Midlands who normally supplies 45,000 tonnes of peas to Birds Eye will only hand over 25,000 this year.

Farmer and pigs in floods
Livestock face being sold because farmers cannot feed them

The shortages will bite first within weeks because summer crops are not being harvested, and again in the autumn when those that should be planted now are not ready.

The NFU's Paul Temple said: "Unfortunately, prices will go up as a result. I think we are coming to the end of a cheap food era."

Some fear a backlash against farmers as prices rise.

Ian Bell said: "The general public are going to see a real increase in prices, but my worry is that farmers are going to be accused of profiteering.

"99% of farmers are on fixed price contracts so they get the same price whether there's a good harvest or a bad one."

Mr Davis explained that while the price per potato, for example, might go up, the loss of harvest was so great as to wipe out any benefit.

"Our costs are unbelievable," he said. "We're throwing away up to 60 to 70% of the crop. The increase in prices doesn't reflect the amount of product we've lost."

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