Diary of a British farmer during the FMD outbreak

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Frightening to read and think about.


Don't know why that link split up, but it works. Jack

-- jack (atl.jack@mailexcite.com), March 05, 2001


This woman's journal speaks of a lot of faith and real pioneer spirit! Thank you for sharing it

-- Marsha (CaprisMaa@aol.com), March 05, 2001.

Not much leaves me speechless, but her diary certainly does. What a nightmare to go through. Frightening is right. Jan

-- Jan in CO (Janice12@aol.com), March 06, 2001.

How do I read the next page of her story? Can't find the link, what happened to their cows.

-- Cindy in Ky (solidrockranch@hotmail.com), March 06, 2001.

Cindy- I know what you mean. It does end abruptly. Looking at the dates, it appears that her diary ran up to Sunday and was published on Monday. Hopefully they will post a follow-up. Jack

-- jack (atl.jack@mailexcite.com), March 06, 2001.

March 10, 2001

Foot-and-Mouth Disease Wrapping British Farmers in Isolation

By SARAH LYALL EWISH, England, March 7 In the scheme of things, the decision to shut the farmers' skittles league because of fears of foot-and-mouth disease might not seem like much. But in a struggling rural community where people can work 14-hour days, seven days a week without a break, the sport, similar to bowling but conducted in pubs over beer, can be a lifeline.

"For some farmers, that's their one night out a week," said Simon Wetherall, who runs an organic dairy and vegetable farm in this tiny village. "A lot of farmers live and breathe farming and just don't go off the farm. It's a very, very isolating business."

Although foot-and-mouth disease, found in Britain two weeks ago, has led to obvious upheaval on a grand scale animals quarantined or killed, exports halted and the country effectively sealed off it is the smaller things that tend to matter here in the heart of farm country on the Somerset-Dorset border.

The disease has not actually reached Hewish. The closest suspected case is eight miles away. But no one wants to take any chances.

Farmers have stopped gathering in groups and visiting other farms because they are terrified of inadvertently spreading the virus, which affects hooved animals but can be transmitted by people, clothes, equipment or even the wind. These days, the farmers communicate mostly by telephone and fax.

The few people whom they do allow on their land, like those who drive from one dairy farm to the next to collect the daily milk yield, are forced to disinfect themselves and their equipment laboriously after each stop. Even farmers whose land is free of the disease say they feel as if they are in quarantine.

Shirley Hardisty, who runs the Rose and Crown pub not far from Hewish, has seen the crisis at close range and felt its ripple effects. Business at the pub, almost entirely from farmers or people connected with farming, fell 50 percent last week. The butcher who supplies pork has shut because the ban on animal movements means most slaughterhouse are closed, and he cannot obtain new meat. The butcher who supplies beef has two weeks' worth left. And the man who provides logs for the fire has stopped delivering, because the land where he collects wood is off limits.

That is not all. The livestock markets that service local farmers are closed. Companies that rely on farmers' business like animal haulers, equipment service centers and machinery dealers have in many cases had to suspend work or send employees on enforced vacations. In nearby Crewkerne, the dealer for big machinery who used to supply farms here has shut its branch for good.

"If it goes on too long like this, we would have to look at layoffs," said Charles Snell, an animal hauler whose 10 trucks are idle in his lot and who is losing thousands of dollars a week. He works with several hundred farms and described the farmers as "very very depressed."

"They're just standing still right now," Mr. Snell said.

[On Friday, agriculture officials announced that animals on 20 additional farms had been confirmed as having foot-and-mouth disease, the worst one-day increase, putting the total of infected farms across Britain at 127. About 73,000 animals have been destroyed in hopes of stopping the spread of the disease.]

Even on a good day, Hewish, with 40 houses, can by no stretch be described as a hub of social excitement. "We have no pub, no shops, and you've already seen the exciting thing, the telephone box," Mr. Wetherall, the dairy farmer, said, using the English term to refer to the community's one landmark, a telephone booth.

In normal times, though, the winding country roads hum with activity, farmers driving tractors, haulers moving cows and sheep to market, people going about the normal noisy business of rural life. In these extraordinary times, the only sign of life in front of John Stoodley's dairy farm down the road from Mr. Wetherall's on a recent day was a pair of ducks splashing in a puddle left by all the rain.

Mr. Stoodley, who has the ruddy face and battered mud-stiffened clothes of a man who has lived on a farm for all of his 68 years, looked almost like a prisoner on his own land. Standing inside the gate, he was separated from the outside by a "Keep Out" sign and by a murky vat of disinfectant into which visitors have to dip their shoes when entering or leaving the property.

"Everything is shut," Mr. Stoodley said. "I can't move anything. I can't buy anything. I can't sell anything."

It has all become too much for him, he added, and he plans to close the farm, started by his father, at the end of the month.

Because of changes in the marketplace that favor large producers over small farmers like Mr. Stoodley, he had decided, even before foot- and-mouth struck, that he would need to close up shop. Things have been very, very hard for him and his neighbors in the last few years.

Sitting in his farm office at the other end of the road, hardly able to keep still with nervous energy, Mr. Wetherall, a fifth-generation farmer, described a community barely keeping afloat. Drowning in what they say are onerous bureaucratic requirements, both from the European Union and the British government, farmers have in recent years had to contend with the extended mad cow crisis, as well as with a strong pound that favors cheaper imports and works against British exports internationally. Markets in Britain tend to be controlled by a small number of huge suppliers, in turn in thrall to supermarket chains, with a result that farmers are locked into low prices.

Even as fixed costs for fertilizer and equipment have increased, for example, farmers get about 30 percent less for their milk today than they did in the mid-1990's.

Around Hewish, the last year or so has been particularly bad. Mr. Weatherall, bringing home 7,800 (about $11,400) a year in income from the farm, become overwhelmed by stress, split from his wife and, for a while, took antidepressants.

A friend, a 29-year-old farmer with two children, hanged himself in October. Another friend, 35, tried to hang himself in January. He was cut down by his father at the last minute and remains in intensive care in the hospital.

And a third farmer, in his mid-50's, bled to death in the fall when his arm was sliced off by a piece of faulty milling equipment that he had bought cheaply, in an effort to cut costs, a week before.

Mr. Wetherall has trouble sleeping at night, and he recently started chain-smoking again, after having quit for years. "I'm 34, but I feel 102 at the moment," he said.

What is happening here is mirrored in farming neighborhoods across Britain. In the last two years, 51,000 people have left jobs in agriculture, nearly 10 percent of the labor force of 557,000 people. In 1999, according to the National Farmers' Union, an average of more than one farmer a week committed suicide.

Arriving as it has at such a troubled time, foot-and-mouth disease has seemed to many to be just one more disaster in a long chain.

At the Rose and Crown, Marcus Corr, 53, another dairy farmer, said he could not see a way clear. "I believe that a lot of farmers are going to go out with foot-and-mouth disease and never come back," he said.

-- Ken S. in WC TN (scharabo@aol.com), March 10, 2001.

Ken, Thanks for posting this update. Guess I'm glad we live on this side of the pond. Wonder how Sue, who used to post from a small holding over there is doing? Jan

-- Jan in Co (Janice12@aol.com), March 10, 2001.

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