Past Problems

Q and A's written during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, 2001.

Q1. What effect is FMD having on the working of your farm enterprise generally? Are there any confirmed outbreaks locally?

Running the farm is proving to be a nightmare.

Because I no longer employ any farm staff and rely almost totally on contractors to do anything that I cannot do, or do not have the time or equipment to do, a lot of jobs are not being done. My sheep contractor is not allowed to leave the farm that he lives on, so all sheep work, in preparation for lambing has to be done by myself. My muck-spreading contractor has not been allowed to come, so half of the lambing sheds that were to have been cleaned out (to reduce disease) have not been done. That half which I did do, is now piled up in the yard rather that out in the field, because I didn't have the time to take it there. It is smelling, unsightly and causing a potential pollution risk.

The hassle of disinfecting every vehicle as it comes and goes to the farm is extremely onerous. Where possible, everything that is being delivered to, or leaving, the farm is taken, or collected, from the bottom of our mile long drive, where the straw pad has to be maintained.

I am certainly working more hours than ever before and feel totally exhausted - and that's before I start lambing.

Yes, we do have confirmed outbreaks locally. The closest two are 12 miles away to the South-west (prevailing wind) with two others within 20 miles and two more within 30 miles (all in Wiltshire).

Q2. Do you have movement restrictions (either imposed by MAFF or voluntarily by yourselves)? Have you been able to move livestock for specific purposes? (eg move sheep for lambing / move animals to abattoir for slaughter under licence?)

As of today (March14th), this farm is not subject to any direct restrictions other than those that apply to the whole country. The exclusion boundary currently comes to the farm boundary, literally, which, if we were included, would not allow us to move anything for any reason.

On Tuesday March 12th I was able to send 100 lambs to slaughter. They were booked to the buyer in the previous week at a price of £2.30p per kilogram. These were the smallest of last years lambs that were left. After killing them, the local abattoir to which they were taken asked if they could buy the other 200 bigger ones that I have left and that are ready to go. The price on offer had fallen to £1.88p per kilogram. That puts a lamb that, before Foot and Mouth, was worth £47 at a price today of £37. They can stay for the time being, but they will cost me £2.50p each per week that I keep them.

In order to move the 100 lambs, I had to get a special licence from the Trading Standards office for the area where the lambs were housed. As they are on another farm, one field over the County boundary, I had to get this from Oxfordshire. It is only valid for 5 days and I had to have proof from the abattoir that they were expecting them on a particular day. Fortunately, they were all working over the weekend, otherwise I would have had to make a trip 30 miles to Oxford . The lambs had to be delivered before 8a.m, so that they could be delivered to London by 12 noon. The lorry had to be disinfected before it left it's home, on arrival at the farm and again before leaving the abattoir.

Q3. What effect is FMD (or any restrictions) having on the day to day running of the farm? (eg are you running out of space to house and feed livestock?)

I have my fattening lambs on another farm. All of them, except about 20, should have been sold a fortnight ago. I am having to take feed to them still on a daily basis. It is about 4 miles away and is where I always take my lambs for finishing in the winter.

I also have 100 ewe lambs (ones that were born last spring and should be coming into the breeding flock next year) on another neighbouring farm. They have been on several farms during the winter, eating off surplus grass left behind by cattle or horses. They are now on the smallest of these farms and have now eaten all the grass that was there. Despite being just 3 fields from my own farm, I am unable to drive, or transport, them home. I am now having to take hay to them also and check them daily. In my opinion, they are more at risk outdoors than they would be if they were at home around my buildings. None of my sheep have had any contact with any other sheep. The only sheep that I have purchased in the last 12 months are 5 rams - last September.

Q4. What effect is FMD having upon your family life (are you confined to the farm, are the children going to school?)

We are not confined to the farm, but we only make essential trips out - collecting provisions for ourselves and for the farm. In early March, when there was a suspected case announced in a local village (within the catchment of our childrens' school), we considered not sending them to school. We stopped all Visitor Centre staff coming to work for several days. However, there is much for them to do, so the core teaching staff are back. Those with farming connections are not.

Q5. What is the knock-on effect upon the income of the farm? (ie do you have an idea of % loss, so far and possible future loss?

The effect is truly catastrophic.

For the farm: 300 finished lambs are now worth about £10 per head less than they were before Foot and Mouth. To maintain some sort of cashflow, we shall most likely have to sell our 100 ewe lambs for meat, rather than keep them to join the breeding flock. Those lambs still on the farm, which would otherwise have been sold by now, are costing in the region of £350 to £400 per week in extra food, let alone time.

The effect on our Visitor Centre is devastating. I employ a student to help with the Visitor Centre animals and 3 regular part-time teaching and marketing staff throughout the year - including through the winter when the Centre is closed for 5 months. Their time has been spent creating a whole range of new information displays and a completely new 'Roadshow' to take to schools when we are not busy here. Bookings were sought from Christmas onwards, and the first one was extremely well received in February. The remaining 7 visits to schools have all been lost (£1200), so too have about 10 days of school and playgroup visits to the farm during the lambing season - these include secondary schools from as far away as Wokingham (50 miles). At least 7 children's birthday parties have been called off and a wedding reception.

Our lambing season is organised to last for 6 weeks, to include the Easter holidays (most farms would lamb over less than 3 weeks). We expected to see in excess of 7000 people through the doors, as we were just beginning to build things up again after the fiasco of having to close for 2 years as a result of the local planners. The Centre is unable to open and, it would seem, is unlikely to be able to do so until May at the very earliest - long after the end of the lambing season. We usually see about half of our annual visitors at this time and will lose not only them, but all the word of mouth that goes with them for the rest of the season. All our advertising and leaflets are booked and printed long ago.

The cash income loss will be well in excess of £30,000, before we consider the loss of bookings for events such as barn dances and wedding receptions that we host and cater for. That is almost one third of last year's turnover for the farm and visitor centre combined. Could I ask how am I meant to pay the £11,000 mortgage instalment that is due in April, or the wages of my staff for the last 2 months that they have worked? We have just spent £9,500 on new equipment and facilities to improve the Centre - including the design of a 4 acre maze to be planted with the biomass willows that we grow on the farm. That was to be our major new feature for the year....and we don't even know if we'll be open.

We had intended to look to the Rural Development Regulation fund, recently announced to help farmers to diversify. In order to apply, we have to have got planning permission first. To apply for planning for the residential block and craft centre will cost many thousands of pounds - I suspect that we can no longer afford that.

Q6. What hopes do you have (if any) of compensation? Are you insured against Foot and Mouth Disease?

None and no.

Q7. How (as far as you can tell) is FMD affecting the local community? (ie allied industries, tourism etc)

I understand that farming based suppliers are seeing a low level of customers as farmers stay at home and only go out for essential requirements and farm deliveries are being restricted. I believe that animal feed suppliers are doing brisk business because of all the extra animals retained on farms.

In terms of tourism, Swindon could not be accused of being the Mecca! Roves farm is probably, though only small, the main rural tourism in the area - it is certainly the only open working farm for 30 miles. Most farmhouse bed and breakfast suppliers (including ourselves) are not taking new bookings, although that may have to change with the financial hardship.

Urban tourism, however, has benefited hugely. In Swindon most of it is run by the Borough Council. Their new flagship, 'Steam' railway museum, which was set up on £11 million of public money is doing fine.

Most rural events in the next 2 months have been cancelled, including shows, racing etc.

Q8. Any other comments?

At the end of the summer I shall sell all the sheep and hope that we can persuade another farmer to let us lamb his ewes here, for the public to watch. I am no longer prepared to work long hours producing something at top quality, with mountains of bureaucracy and paperwork, that nobody seems to be prepared to pay a realistic price for. Neither am I prepared to slog it out and watch inferior meat imports come into this country, when we all know that much of it has been reared to much lower standards than the British consumer demands of British farmers.

I very much fear for the future of our Farm Visitor Centre and the seven local people that I employ in it. I doubt that we can any longer afford to invest in it and without that investment it will only be able to open during the summer months. That means that I cannot afford the full-time professional staff that it deserves to run it effectively and I am no longer prepared to rush around seven days a week to keep it going and then go off to do the farming.

And for us? Emigrate, because I see no future for true rural business in this country.

Rupert Burr
14th March 2001