Rural affairs update for members

Tyrone countryside. Picture: Cliff DonaldsonTyrone countryside. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Tyrone countryside. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
The rural affairs committee like all other Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) committees have adapted to the ‘new normal’ and have been busy at work on a range of issues including:

Mental health and wellbeing

Even before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the mental health of farmers, their families and rural communities was a significant issue. Now as the pandemic continues, more and more people are beginning to consider their mental health in addition to physical needs. Mental health can be a difficult subject to talk about and even more so now as we are socially and physically distancing and miss the conversations at livestock markets, farm supply stores or the vets.

The stress and anxiety caused by issues such as financial concerns, relationship problems and Brexit uncertainty has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions on everyday life.

If you are struggling during this time, talk to someone you trust; a family member, a friend, or contact Rural Support. This local charity is the key organisation in Northern Ireland (NI) offering a listening and signposting service for farmers and their families. They do this through their helpline and their volunteers can help callers with a variety of issues including physical and mental health concerns.

In the lead up to Christmas it is particularly important that we consider those who may be lonely and struggling with their mental health. For many, Christmas is a time to look forward to, however for others it can be difficult. Where possible and whilst following government guidelines keep in contact with family, friends your neighbours and think especially of those who live alone in rural areas during these exceptional times.

Rural Support can be contacted on 0800 138 1678 or visit their website : at The helpline is open from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9am and 9pm.

Rural broadband

In November, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced that Fibrus were successful in securing the £165million Project Stratum contract to improve rural internet in NI. The UFU have lobbied continuously to gain better broadband on behalf of our members as a large proportion live in rural areas and are seriously disadvantaged by a poor or non-existent broadband service. This became more evident during lockdown as the need for a strong and reliable broadband connection increased with many becoming dependent on it to stay connected with others, to work, for educational purposes and the daily running of farm businesses as more essential agricultural activities went online including livestock marts.

Although the roll out of this project is good news, for many still working from home and trying to stay connected with friends and family improved broadband cannot come quick enough. Whilst we wait the roll out of Project Stratum, there are other schemes available worth considering such as Ofcom - The broadband universal service. Premises which cannot currently avail of a minimum 10Mbps broadband service can request for an upgraded connection from BT.

Further details can be found here:

Farm Safety Partnership

As part of the 2020-2023 Farm Safety Action Plan, the Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) launched their ‘Farm Safe Essentials’, campaign with the aim of reducing the number of serious and fatal incidents relating to frequently recurring causes on farms. The four key actions are #1NO BRAKES, NO CHANCE, #2 PLAN SAFE SPACES, #3 GIVE SLURRY SPACE and #4 STAY OFF ROOFS. The FSP encourage those working on farms to take onboard these simple precautions to prevent harm to themselves and others and to embed good habits and behaviour in every day working practices.

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