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Prize-winning North Devon beef farmer forced to sell herd due to 'impossible' weather

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 05, 2013

Barry Butler with one of his championship-winning Aberdeen Angus heifers, at Totnes Show

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Beef farmer Barry Butler has given up his prize-winning herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle because the ground on his North Devon farm is saturated and feed problems were becoming impossible.

His decision followed a summer and autumn of almost continual rain.

It was an emotional moment when his 40 pedigree Angus left the farm at Pancrasweek, near Holsworthy – but it had been an unequal struggle, he admitted.

Such are the conditions that he has not been able to get a tractor onto his 100 acres of pasture for the past 16 months, though it was a combination of problems that finally forced him to decide to get out of beef production.

"There are so many other issues as well at the weather – bureaucracy and the way North Devon is neglected by the Government," said Mr Butler, who is in his early 60s. "It's just one thing on top of another. There is no broadband coverage and the mobile phone link is diabolical. It makes it very difficult to do business at all."

Mr Butler, who bred Aberdeen Angus for 30 years , had a well-known organic herd, producing for a niche market. His cattle won numerous show awards.

He explained: "North Devon is a very wet part of the country and the weather that we have endured more recently, combined with the very wet conditions last summer, made it simply impossible for cattle to graze.

"So we made the decision to disperse the herd. We were reaching a situation where getting the land back to any sort of fit state to turn out the cattle after the winter was becoming extremely difficult."

Mr Butler and his wife Judy sent their cattle for dispersal sale at Sedgemoor Livestock Centre, near Bridgwater, one of the largest markets in the whole country.

But, he said, it was a disappointing operation for them – as the prices realised for their organic herd did not meet their expectations.

"It was sad because the buyers there weren't in the mood to pay out and everyone else there seemed to be in the same situation that we were," he explained.

"It was a sad sale, but we didn't want to take the risk of continuing in beef."

The Butlers continue to keep sheep on their farm, and Mr Butler has several other business interests.

Mr Butler added: "It wasn't easy for us, but all those other issues goaded us into the final decision.

"We were not dependent on the cattle and we could have struggled on for a few more years. But everything kept building up."

The Butlers' situation is typical of many farmers throughout the Westcountry, where a wet summer led to a poor harvest, poached-up grazing ground and spiralling feed costs.

Peter Clarke, of the charity Farm Crisis Network, said: "I feel very sorry for Mr Butler and so very many others, because matters have moved totally out of their hands.

"What is really worrying is that we just don't know what we face this year so far as the climate is concerned, and if we can expect something similar to what happened last year.

"The atrocious summer caused incalculable damage, which had a devastating effect on the industry, and a knock-on effect for some time to come. It would be extremely worrying if it happened again."

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  • merrythought  |  February 05 2013, 4:14PM

    "There are so many other issues as well as the weather – bureaucracy and the way North Devon is neglected by the Government," said Mr Butler It's very sad but we have not had an MP in this area for so long that is in government from either of the main parties.

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