Prince Charles to hear plight of £8,000-a-year Upper Teesdale farmers (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Prince Charles to hear plight of £8,000-a-year Upper Teesdale farmers
THE crucial role a support project plays in the lives of hard-pressed Upper Teesdale farming families will be given the royal seal of approval when Prince Charles visits the area on Tuesday.
In his capacity as patron of the Prince's Countryside Fund (PCF), the royal visitor will tour the Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) offices in Middleton-in-Teesdale.
His visit comes in the wake of a report which says some upland farmers in the dale are struggling to get by on just £8,000 a year.
The report, Challenges Facing Farmers, was produced by UTASS and Rose Regeneration for Oxfam, and took an in-depth look at the lives of 20, mainly tenant, farmers.
It highlighted how low income meant farmers couldn't afford to pay bills, mend equipment and had to reduce the quantity or quality of feed given to livestock. In some cases farmers even had to go without food.
Many are living in 'farm poverty' – earning 60 per cent less than the average income – and are operating without adequate insurance, unable to pay into a pension scheme and have few, if any savings.
UTASS provides a range of support services from assisting farmers with administration and paperwork to running young people's drop-ins and providing a support and advice service 24 hours-a-day all year round.
Project manager, Diane Spark, said Prince Charles was well aware of the difficulties facing farmers.
“That is why he is so passionate about trying to make things better for farmers in upland areas.
“There weren't any surprises in the report, but we were saddened by the reality of the details,” she said.
In 2010, UTASS received a grant for £36,180 from the PCF, which has helped to pay for the continued funding of two advisers and an IT trainer.
“We will be introducing the prince to staff and volunteers and some of the people who have benefited through UTASS – especially those who have received IT training,” added Ms Spark.
“We have farmers who have gone from not being able to switch on a computer who can now do their VAT returns online.”
Prince Charles will also visit Middleton-in-Teesdale Auction Mart and take a tour of the sheep pens.
After opening the mart's new cafe – he will join a meeting of local sheep farmers in his role as patron of the Campaign for Wool, which he initiated in 2008 to address the plummeting price and demand for wool.
From this, 70 fashion brands, six national departmental stores and 1,000 carpet producers signed up for Wool Week – which this month went global with events in Tokyo, New York and Madrid.