OPINION: Worrying statistics prove farming is a risky business

Jamie Lockhart is chairman of the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU)

Jamie Lockhart is chairman of the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) - Credit: Jamie Lockhart

Volatile weather and concerning accident statistics illustrate the inherent risks of farming, says Jamie Lockhart, chairman of the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU).

Farming has always been a risky business.

It is an industry that relies heavily on uncontrollable elements, the biggest of which is the weather - which is undeniably becoming more extreme and less predictable. 

This spring has been no exception. Having had a very wet autumn and winter, where soils became saturated and waterlogged delaying early spring cultivations, this has been replaced by a prolonged dry spell that has led to a rapid drying of land and left many seeds sat in less than ideal seed beds. 

Couple this with two weeks of consecutive night temperatures dropping below 2C, it means crops are well behind where we would expect them to be. 


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This is particularly apparent with field vegetable crops with many growers suggesting their crops are two weeks behind where they would expect at this stage. This could put a heavier reliance on imports for early season supplies which may test post-Brexit port inspections as well as putting pressure on prices.

The livestock sector is also challenged by very slow grass growth in a year where they are also managing straw shortages following a difficult harvest in 2020 and increased competition from the straw burning power stations.

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Let’s hope for some much needed rain and some warmer nights soon. 

With this level of volatility and the prospect of a reducing support system for UK agriculture, farmers will need to continue to innovate, diversify and adapt.

Economies of scale and improved efficiencies will play their part, but what is also needed is improved margins, gained from more realistic pricing of finished goods when considering the risks involved.

These improved margins would encourage investment in farming businesses and support the long-term sustainable production of quality local food produced to the highest standards. 

Of all the statistics in farming the most concerning and depressing is the number of people being killed on UK farms. 

Recently-published figures showed that 50 people lost their lives in farm-related incidents across the UK from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. This number is five times higher than those killed in construction and 18 times higher than the average across all industries. Incidents involving vehicles, falls from height and livestock are the main causes.   

The NFU, spearheaded by deputy president Stuart Roberts, continues to do all it can in raising the profile of initiatives such as Farm Safety Week in July, but also ensuring that health and safety becomes part of farmers' everyday thought process in the hope of improving these shocking statistics that blight our industry. 

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