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Prince's Countryside Fund providing support to Dorset's farming community

PUBLISHED: 11:04 15 July 2014

Nick (centre) received help from R.A.B.I. when he lost part of his leg in a farm accident. He is pictured here with his sons who have since raised funds for R.A.B.I.

Nick (centre) received help from R.A.B.I. when he lost part of his leg in a farm accident. He is pictured here with his sons who have since raised funds for R.A.B.I.

Archant

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I.) has been supporting farming families for over 150 years. Now, with the backing of the Prince's Countryside Fund, it can provide even more support to Dorset's farming community

A Government report published in 2010 revealed that one in four farming families lived on or below the official poverty line. “The fact is that most farmers are self-employed and they only have an income if they have something to sell,” explains head of fundraising for R.A.B.I. Philippa Spackman. “If production is down in quantity or quality due to extreme weather, income is reduced and production costs may even be higher than selling costs.”

There are also the usual problems faced by all businesses such as increased energy costs and the need to work to ever-tighter margins. You may think this doesn’t affect you, but as Philippa points out agriculture is vital to us all. “We need farmers three times a day for our own survival – breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is also a vital part of the economy and the start of a food and farming chain which contributes £9 billion to the UK every year and provides 3.5 million jobs.”

Last year the Prince’s Countryside Fund contributed £169,000 to R.A.B.I. to help farming families affected by the extreme snow and blizzards of that winter. This year a further £25,000 has already been donated, divided equally between the Farming Help group of charities, to support families affected by the winter flooding. R.A.B.I. also paid diesel costs for the transport of animal feed donated to farmers in need.

“More and more farming people from Dorset are coming to us for help,” says R.A.B.I’s South West Regional Manager, Pam Wills. “Nationally we are concerned that the number of farmers of working age seeking help is also growing. In Dorset just under 20% of £30,000 of grants we paid out went to this age group.”

Extreme weather has certainly contributed to making these very challenging times for farming. This is in addition to the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 and its return in 2007. Last year’s fine summer brought some respite and 2013 ended better than expected. However, the recent winter floods have had a devastating effect on some. Many farmers have struggled as they have had less livestock to sell and crops were lost. Others have faced additional costs from having to be keep livestock indoors because fields were flooded, which meant buying more feed.

“The overall impact of the last three years means it may take many farmers years to recover their losses,” Philippa explains. “This is in addition to the economic effect of other problems. Illness, accident, family breakdown and bereavement can impact on a farming family as much as animal disease such as bovine TB. Other times it may simply be the inability to make a living from their business, or survive comfortably in retirement.”

Even the best-managed business can be hit by unexpected events, and farms of all sizes, all over the county, have been affected, with the impact falling on owner farmers, tenant farmers and farm workers alike. “The support we have given to people in the past year has ranged from helping with utility bills, council tax arrears, rent and bankruptcy fees, to paying for funerals, heating, clothing and even food,” adds Philippa. “At the R.A.B.I we are mainly concerned with people’s welfare – not businesses – but we do also have specific projects which aim to help people improve their financial prospects.”

An example of this is the Gateway Project which pays for training and accreditation to help people use their skills to earn extra income from additional off-farm work. “We can also pay for people to get help with their paperwork so that they can claim state benefits,” explains Philippa. “Another project we are investigating is how to help people determine the viability of their farm,”

Recently the Institution received a local boost from Ladies in Beef, an organisation of female beef farmers. The previous year, during Great British Beef Week, Ladies in Beef raised £25,000 for R.A.B.I. This year they kicked off their latest fundraising initiative on St George’s Day with a nationwide week-long series of British beef-themed events which raised almost £35,000 for R.A.B.I. This included more than £1,500 from a St George’s Day lunch held at Kingston Maurwood College, organised by the Dorset branch of Ladies in Beef.

Co-founder of Ladies in Beef, Jilly Greed, is thrilled with the public’s response: “Great British Beef Week is a positive way for consumers to show their support for an industry which is still very challenging for many livestock farmers in flood hit areas. We also used it as an opportunity to promote Red Tractor Assured beef and raise funds for R.A.B.I.”

Philippa Spackman believes that with this sort of fighting talk farming has a tremendous future. “Farming is an exciting industry ready to attract the brightest and best, but for various reasons not everyone can take advantage of the opportunities available. This is why R.A.B.I.’s work is as necessary today as when we were founded more than 150 years ago.”

Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I)

Established in 1860 by John Mechi, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution is a grant-making charity that helps farming people of all ages if they are in financial difficulty. Support is confidential and includes one-off emergency payments as well as regular grants for long-term beneficiaries and funding for things like essential household items, disability equipment, relief farm staff, home-help costs and residential care home top-up fees. The institution also runs two care homes of its own. For more information visit rabi.org.uk, call head office on 01865 724931, or the confidential helpline on 0300 303 7373.

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The public can make a donation online at Virgin Giving at the Post Office or by text. Text PCF to 70300 and a £3 donation will be made to The Prince’s Countryside Fund.

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