Farmers’ Struggles

The farmers have had more than the usual struggles to cope with in the past 18
months. The unusual weather conditions, which some of us would see as part of
climate change but others, still living in denial, see as part of a natural weather
cycle, have made farming significantly more difficult than usual. The lack of sun last
year meant that crop yields were down, and the crops themselves were poor quality.
The grass did not grow for animals to eat. Harvesting, with the soil being in the state
it was meant that even the modern combines sank, and farmers were lucky if they
only had to tow the combine out once. Those that did manage to sow the winter
wheat have generally had to grub it up as the cold snowy, prolonged winter has
ruined it.

We have all seen on the news the difficulties the snow made for those hill farmers
at lambing time. The cows were still indoors and the sheep that should have
been there for lambing were trapped in the snow outside. There were some joyful
stories of recovery when sheep and lambs were found under the snow in igloo like
conditions, but many more of severe losses of the new born lambs with farmers
searching in very challenging conditions.

I live in south Staffordshire, and farmers I know have faced severe financial
hardship because of the difficulties. If you sow winter wheat and then have to grub
it up, that is all loss; add in the poor yields and the challenges with the animals and
they have faced difficulty on every front. It is no wonder that farming has such a
high suicide rate. At the best of times most farmers I know are not over talkative, so
no release of tensions there. By working late into the night all the spring drilling is
back on track for one local farmer so they are hoping the weather conditions will be
good this year for the crop to come. However the local wildlife have also suffered
with the weather and lack of food. Already farmers are having to protect crops like
rapeseed from depredations by hungry birds. Bee keepers are finding that between half
to a quarter of their hives of bees have died, that late blast of winter snow has been
just too much for them. At the middle of April the forsythia normally flowering in late
February finally bloomed – too late for struggling bees.

It is salutary for us humans that with the technological ability to reach the moon
and fly round the world we are as subject to the weather as we have ever been. I
asked local farmers why they did it, why they struggled with all the difficulties. “It’s
a way of life.” “I just love the land and want to work with it.” This was the kind of
answer they gave. Diversifying is also part of this way of life; like the care farm,
where they introduce the farm to different groups of people offering them a farm
experience and programme sessions. A group of mental health patients have a
weekly meeting there funded by the National lottery. They learn bread-making and
care for some of the animals and have a therapeutic programme. School groups
come for educational reasons, and it helps to connect children with the food that
they buy in supermarkets. The farmer, a quiet man who was troubled about these
changes his wife made, now really enjoys them and would miss people coming to
the farm.

Christian Aid has been telling us for some time that farmers in the third world have
been struggling with climate change, uncertain when to plant crops as ancient
knowledge does not fit the lived experience of the weather patterns today, dealing
with unusual heavy rain, no rain, disappearing water sources, all have played their
part in the difficulties they have faced. Now we know it too, and our farmers live
with this extra challenge. We face the inevitable extra food costs that come with
poorer harvests when many are struggling financially. It is a time for lament. We
cannot change the past, but we can, before God, lament the damage that human
activity has done. This is not to wallow in regret or to continually beat ourselves
up. Lament reaches deep into the human spirit and leads us to new action, affirms
our commitment to change and frees us, for awhile, from the limits of grief and
justification. Lament is a gift to us.

Christine Polhill
4 May 2013



Author: | Date: 6 May, 2013 | Category: Climate Change Food | Comments: 0

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