Stress. Pressure. Frustration. Isolation. These are all familiar feelings for farmers who have had their lives and livilihoods turned upside down by the recent bad weather that has hit Northern Ireland.
Unprecedented and prolonged wet weather in recent months, as well as recent heavy snowfall, has had an adverse and increasingly worrying impact across many farms in Northern Ireland.
Many of the issues farmers are facing are down to the problems associated with saturated ground.
The charity Rural Support has been inundated with calls as many in rural communities struggle to cope.
One such farmer is David Butler, from Eglinton, County Londonderry. He is one of many farmers in Northern Ireland who have been severely affected by the storms.
He described what impact the weather has had on his arable business.
“The weather has had a devastating impact on my crops,” said David. “Not only have I been unable to plough the last few months, but the state of the land means I may not be able to prepare for Spring either. This has left me with environmental problems to deal with and a financial burden, as well as the strain it is causing on my health. It is so disheartening.
“We feel like we’ve been forgotten about here and engaging with the local agencies to resolve the issues has been difficult. Thankfully Rural Support has helped us with that and we met recently with representatives to look at how things can be improved. They really have been a lifeline to us.”
David’s is an all too familiar story, something that Jude McCann, Chief Executive of Rural Support, has come across many times since the charity was founded more than 15 years ago.
In 2002, following the Foot and Mouth epidemic which had a severe impact on farmers and on the rural community in Northern Ireland, there was evidence of distress within the rural community and the need for a support service was identified.
Rural Support provides this support through a helpline offering a listening and signposting service for farmers and rural families.
The range of issues the charity deals with is vast and includes emotional distress, suicide risk, physical and mental health, farming paperwork and bureaucracy.
“Working in the agricultural sector is a difficult job, even without the additional stress and toll that severe weather conditions have on farming,” explained Mr McCann.
“The impact of such conditions cannot be underestimated; farmers have lost crops, missed production deadlines and their land, buildings, laneways and, in some cases, machinery has been destroyed and livestock lost.
“Farmers are really feeling the strain and at Rural Support we have seen an increase in the number of calls to our helpline since August.”
Rural Support’s trained staff, volunteers and highly experienced mentors provide support both face-to-face or via a confidential helpline, as well as delivering on-farm business support services to farmers and rural dwellers across Northern Ireland.
However, Mr McCann believes that more needs to be done and called upon local politicians to react to what he describes as a crisis for some rural communities.
He continued: “Our rural communities need leadership and a functioning Executive that can make decisions and release funds that will help them get back on their feet following these trying times.
“In the meantime, Rural Support will continue to support rural communities in moving forward, so we are calling on anyone in need of assistance to call our helpline and avail of our services.”
Mr McCann added: “While it has been an extremely difficult few months for these communities, I am positive that with the right direction and additional support, rural areas across Northern Ireland can get back on track.”
To speak to someone in confidence contact the Rural Support helpline on 0845 606 7 607. The helpline is available from 9am to 9pm Monday – Friday (voicemail and support options available at all other times).
For more information on the work of Rural Support visit www.ruralsupport.org.uk or call the office on: 028 8676 0040.