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Stackyard News Dec 2010

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Winter Bites For Farmers!

This is the worst pre Christmas Weather for over twenty years, with the North East being one of the most severely affected areas in the UK. Andrew Jamieson of George F. White tells us of the effects this weather is having on the farming community.


wintry sheep

Most of the farming community will be familiar with the saying “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. Normally restricted to March, the old proverb happily adapts itself to our present savage winter, with the average farmer feeling that they have had the best of a pride of lions chewing on their leg.

Farmers throughout the region face a daily struggle to cope with the worst that Mother Nature has had to throw at them. Many also face the prospect of isolation in adversity as up to two feet of snow has fallen and frozen over them in the past week. It is not common for the snow to come this early in the winter and it may have caught some farmers short, facing the prospect of not being able to deliver, or get anything delivered, as the highways agency and north-east councils struggle to cope with keeping the roads clear and passable. Those who had not fully stocked the kitchen pantry may face the prospect of a trip to the shops in the tractor for crucial supplies.


wintry sheep
Out-wintered sheep will be completely reliant on hand-delivered forage and concentrates to just survive. Additionally, traditional hill breeds will be due to be running with the tup and the weather will have a massive impact on next years lambing. Hill sheep will also face the prospect of being isolated, with farmers unable to reach them to deliver enough food to survive. Should the weather continue, for the second time this year, hill farmers will face the very real and depressing prospect of collecting the dead when the snow has subsided. Many farmers will risk their own lives in a desperate attempt to prevent their livestock perishing out on the hill and attempt to bring them onto lower ground where they are able to deliver feed.

The bad news continues. Our dry spring resulted in a lower than average level of grass growth and, consequently, a short supply of conserved forage, with the resultant costs to buy in being high. Forage prices have risen by between 20-40% as a result of this short supply, with prices ex-farm being between £60-80/t for Hay, and £50-80/t for Barley Straw, depending on location. This may even be higher in areas of short supply, and haulage costs will need to be added. This, coupled with a significant rise in the commodity price of cereals and subsequent rise in concentrates cost, will put a significant strain on farmers’ cashflow. It will also leave many facing the prospect of a long nervous winter as they eat into their precious stocks so early in the year.

This is a crucial time for the UK meat industry, with many butchers and suppliers looking to stock up their larders to give enough time to hang for the Christmas/New Year period. But those lions of winter are again intervening, with many farmers struggling to get their stock to the market place. Auction marts are reporting lower than average levels of stock entry. This will put pressure on supply and may result in higher than average prices for your Christmas meat.

George F. White has offices Bedale in North Yorkshire, Shiptonthorpe near York, Alnwick in Northumberland, Wolsingham and Barnard Castle in County Durham, and Park Lane in London

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