AN EMERGENCY fund totalling £300,000 has been made available to help farmers struggling through winter as a result of this year’s extreme weather.

The Prince’s Countryside Fund is donating £150,000 – the entire contents of its own emergency fund – and the Duke ofWestminster is personally donating the same amount.

The announcement followed a meeting called by the Prince of Wales with the leaders of farm charities – the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution; Farm Crisis Network; the Addington Fund in England and Wales; and RSABI in Scotland.

The money will be distributed through a number of charities and used to help farmers struggling financially as a result of this summer’s extreme weather which has led to a shortage of grazing, low stocks of forage, a poor harvest, compounded by the rising cost of feed and fuel.

There are also health issues for livestock as a result of the wet weather, with some of the highest incidence of liver fluke ever seen among cattle and sheep.

Arable farmers are also having a dreadful year and 2013 will be no better with waterlogged seedbeds, very poor establishment of autumn sown crops and many fields remaining un-sown. Even now there are warnings of more heavy rain and flooding.

Hosting the meeting at Clarence House on Monday evening, Prince Charles said he had been growing increasingly concerned about the many difficulties which farmers from all sectors are facing this winter.

“When I set up my Countryside Fund in 2010, I and the trustees decided from the start that we would always keep a lump sum available to be used for any farming emergency. Indeed some of you have already received help from this fund in the past. But I think we are all agreed that many British farmers are facing an emergency situation and so I am very pleased that the trustees agreed at their quarterly meeting that we would divide £150,000 between you.”

At the meeting Farm Crisis Network confirmed its casework was already double that experienced normally at this time of year in the South-West and North-West while the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution has paid out two-and-ahalf times as much money in emergency payments to twothirds more working farmers than in the same period last year.

Some of the charities supply food vouchers, while volunteers have started to carry Foodbank boxes in their cars to give immediate help when they visit people.

The increased pressure and stress has also seen all the Farming Help charities’ helplines receiving calls from individuals contemplating suicide.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle, a trustee of The Prince’s Countryside Fund, said: “This is the first time that the Countryside Fund has utilised all of its emergency funding and is a reflection of what a difficult time this is for farmers.

“Farms have been hit hard by the poor weather and it is only going to get worse as the need to buy in feed at inflated prices and the increase in other costs begins to have a serious effect on cash flow.

“In addition, arable farmers are having a dreadful year and it is clear that next year will be no better. The impact will probably be felt in January and February onwards so it is particularly well timed to release the money now and ensure the charities can prepare for the increase in demand for their services.”

Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president, thanked the Prince for his continued support of farmers and growers.

He said: “This emergency donation and the generosity of the Duke of Westminster will mean that many farmers and growers will receive help at a difficult time for their business and those hard-pressed farmers really welcome support when times are tough.”

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. Until March 2013 all donations will be given directly to the Farming Help Charities.

RABI’s confidential helpline is 0300 303 7373 while Farm Crisis Network’s helpline is 0845 367 9990.