Farmers’ calls for help increase

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Rural Support has confirmed a doubling in the number of calls for help and advice received from ‘stressed out’ farmers since the end of August.

A spokesperson for the organisation said that the inquiries received were extremely wide ranging in nature.

The spokesperson explained: “Financial worries and coping with the challenges posed by the continuing bad weather are major issues for many of the farmers coming through to us at the present time.

“Other concerns include the stress associated with TB tests, succession planning, cross compliance inspections and, generally, having to deal with government agencies.

“All of these issues are impacting on the mental health of the farmers in question and their families. Our advisors are more than happy to visit those farmers seeking one-to-one advice.”

Rural Support is expecting the volume of calls received to increase further over the coming weeks.

The spokesperson said the winter months normally see a spike in the number of inquiries coming into the organisation.

“And we certainly expect such to be the case again in 2018.”

“Rural Support provides a listening and signposting service for farmers and rural families across Northern Ireland.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different. We will take time to listen carefully to each caller’s concerns and needs. We will then work to find the best way ahead. Our helpline can be accessed on a 24:7 basis.”

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Barclay Bell agrees that the mental health status of many farmers is coming under tremendous pressure at the present time.

“And this is also affecting their family members,” he added.

“The challenges that have brought all of this about are all too-easy to list. In the first instance, the continuing poor weather is adding significantly to the costs incurred by all farm businesses. And farmers are deeply also worried about the additional costs that are coming down the tracks, given that many are still trying to get second cut silage made.

“I heard recently that eight by four by three bales of barley straw are now making up to £70.

“Adding to the stress on farmers is the need to get slurry out before the beginning of the closed period for spreading.

“Despite our efforts to highlight the derogation that allows individual farmers to spread slurry after October 15, I know that many producers are still concerned about their obligations in this regard.

“Farmers who decide to push ahead with slurry spreading activities must ensure that pollution incidents do not arise. Their own safety is also of paramount importance. The last thing we need is an upsurge in farm accidents.”

Mr Bell continued: “Rather than ask for a formal extension to the open period, the Union has asked both the Department of Agriculture and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency to take a sympathetic approach when it comes to farmers opting to spread slurry over the coming weeks.”

The UFU president said that agriculture must be allowed to get off the hook of farming by calendar date.

“We could very well see the weather improve later in November and December, thereby creating perfect slurry spreading conditions. However, the current legislation prohibits this from happening.

“We need more scientific research carried out, in order to identify when conditions are best suited to spread slurry and how this science can then be applied at individual farm level.”

For those wishing to contact Rural Support, the Helpline number is 08456 067 607.