Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

How are farmers coping with the snow?

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News

Collapsed shed at farm owned by Malcolm Hay
Malcolm Hay said snow damage to his farm could "run into six figures"

Farmers are facing big bills as they struggle to deal with the heavy snowfall, with shed roofs collapsing, drinking water freezing and crops unable to be harvested.

Farm owner Malcolm Hay, of Edinglassie farm, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, said the weather has wreaked havoc on his farm.

He thinks the cost of the cold weather will run "well into six figures" after one of his sheds, which housed about 400 cattle, collapsed under the weight of the snow.

The 53-year-old said two people were in the building at the time and escaped "relatively unscathed", but about a half a dozen cows were not so lucky and got buried under "about 5ft of snow and rubble".

Mr Hay has resorted to hiring an extendable crane to shift the snow from other buildings.

"It is very expensive, about £400 an hour, but it's desperation.

"The sheds are so big, about half an acre long, they are badly buckled, it's dangerous, impossible with a man and spade," he said.

Another farm manager, Andrew Hall, 27, from Melrose in the Scottish borders, lost 40 sheep after a shed roof collapsed.

He said getting fodder to lambs in the fields was a "nightmare" too.

"The quad bikes and Land Rovers can't get anywhere in a foot and a half of snow. My dogs can't work out there, the sheep can barely walk, so thousands of ewes are solely reliant upon me," he said.

Collapsed shed on farm in Melrose, in the Scottish borders
Farm manager Andrew Hall lost 40 sheep after a shed roof collapsed

But he said farmers "soldier on, regardless".

He estimates the total damage caused by the snow to reach between £50,000 and £70,000 - and is worried about insurance.

Both the National Beef Association and National Farmers' Union Scotland have asked for the Scottish Government to help rebuild steadings, which in some cases are not covered.

The NFUS said farmers were also suffering from a shortage of fuel.

'Frozen water'

Livestock and arable farmer, Andrew Brown, 46, of Fairchild Lodge, Rutland, said his main problem was getting water to the animals.

"Pipes and water troughs are frozen - cattle can't be without water for more than two hours, they get stressed and fight over it. We are weary of pipes bursting, it can waste a lot of water," he said.

He said sheep could cope in temperatures as low as -20C (-4F), and crops were protected from frost by the snow.

"But anything in the ground, has got to stay in the ground, it is very difficult to harvest at this time of year," he said.

And he said oilseed rape was suffering from an unusual side-effect.

"Oilseed rape is a cabbage plant and sticks up more than most crops. Everything else is covered by snow, so pigeons are attacking in flocks. We let off rockets to try to scare them away," he said.

Sarah Pettitt, chairman of the Horticulture and Potato Board of the National Farmers' Union, said farmers were having to use "innovative and desperate measures" to harvest crops in frozen ground.

Sheep at a farm in  Rutland
Farmer Andrew Brown said sheep could cope in temperatures of -20 degrees

"We are talking about cabbages, cauliflowers, spring greens, leeks. Where we would use a harvester we are having to throw 100 people at a field to do the job by hand," she said.

Stephen Alambritis, chief spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, said he was concerned the problems with harvesting could "reduce the amount available to stores - and push up prices".

But Richard Dodd, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, said there was no evidence retailers were having difficulties getting enough supplies or the snowy spell would affect shop prices.

NFU acting director Martin Haworth said farmers were "doing all they could" to "avoid shortages and panic buying".

"Farmers are used to dealing with extreme weather conditions and are working very hard to make it 'business as usual'," he said.

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