Farmers across Stirlingshire are facing a “perfect storm” of uncertainty amid fears for the future, according to a local farmer.
The agricultural sector has been hit hard by a surge in the cost of basic items, with the conflict in Ukraine offering the latest factor following the impact of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.
From fertilizer to feed and diesel, the cost of items associated with keeping farms going – and keeping the lights on – have overtaken a rise in the selling price for items such as milk and grain.
Mark Donald, who owns Rhynaclach Farm in Port of Menteith, is among those wrestling with the challenges caused by the current circumstances.
Mark (pictured), who is the regional chairman for the Forth and Clyde region for NFU Scotland, said: “The level of uncertainty is currently off the scale and it is affecting a lot of people mentally.
“Farmers are looking at costs spiraling out of control and while at the present time they are getting reasonable levels of income for what they are selling, that doesn’t mean it’s covering their costs.
“There is a lot of fear in the sector and people are definitely worried.
“As an example, 14 months ago, I bought red diesel for running the tractors and was quoted 47p per liter; I phoned ten days ago and was told it would be £1.27.
“For a lorry load of fertilizer last year, it would be in the region of £5,000 – now you’re looking at around £15,000.
“We can sit here and say the price of selling is going up but it’s not as fast when the price of grain has gone up by 50 per cent, but the price of fertilizer has risen by 300 per cent in the same time.
“I’m not going to sit here and blame the price rises on Ukraine because this was already in the pipeline, it has just sped things up and people are just left in a really tough and hard place to be.”
The further squeeze on budgets caused by the current situation has also prompted concerns of a mental health spike in a sector that has already reported increasing rates of depression and suicide.
“The biggest shock to the system is in cashflow because grain for example won’t come ready for sale until September/October but those costs such as fertilizer have to be paid now.
“Not many farmers have big cash reserves due to some lean years – especially in the dairy sector – so they’re now going to the bank cap in hand hoping to extend their overdraft for example and that’s just another millstone around their necks.
“We have an aging farming population which is male-dominated where the suicide rate is above the national average.
“People are often working on their own or with family and they maybe don’t want to discuss the challenges with the family and when things go wrong, it’s that family who are hit the hardest.
“It’s a massive issue that we are only just scratching the surface on and it’s a major fear going forward.
“The only thing keeping us ‘out of jail’ is that what we are selling is at good value, but we’ve seen in the past that that will drop before costs do and farmers may be left holding the baby.”