AN ALARMING 87 per cent of farmers here are struggling with financial pressure which has sparked an increase in calls to rural support helplines.
A project has been set up amid growing concerns for members of the farming communities who cited financial difficulties and debt as one of the main causes of stress.
The deepening crisis has seen almost 40% of calls to a Rural Support helplines stem from farm finance and debt as individuals struggle to access bank loans, are unable to pay suppliers and worry about low income from the farm business.
Farmers are being encouraged to take part in the Tackling Rural Stress: Promoting Positive Mental Health programme which helps address the financial stress which farmers, farm families and rural dwellers are currently under and also the impact which stress can have on an individual’s health and well-being.
“It can seem like things are closing in around them and the situation can escalate very quickly if it’s not addressed,” explained Melissa Wylie, a outreach and promotion officer of Rural Support.
“When stressed it is hard to think straight, it’s hard to be neutral and objective about the situation. It often helps to get an independent, objective view of how to address the situation and seeking help such as this is a difficult but positive step.
“If you are struggling under the crippling weight of financial stress Rural Support wants to urge you not to suffer in silence but to seek help.”
Rural Support provides up to three sessions of free, confidential, face to face support from a finance mentor to analyse your current financial and farm business position and help identify a way forward.
This may include considering changes to the farm business or developing a financial or debt management plan.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott, who sits on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, stated that finance stress is a ‘massive issue’ among local farmers.
“A lot of farmers work alone quite a bit so they don’t have people with them to take the financial burden from them,” he added.
“It’s a major issue and something we have talked about in rural development.
“The Department of Agriculture has helped by providing assistance for rural farmers through programmes like single farm payments.
“Farmers are good for the economy, when they do well, the economy does well because they will spend money. But farming prices are unpredictable which has a high impact on cash flow and long-term business.
“Beef and lamb prices are prone to serious fluctuation which can leave it vulnerable.
“Some farmers are very reluctant to speak and they are probably more reluctant to contact someone for help than some other areas because they work alone and see themselves as isolated.”
To speak to someone in confidence contact their helpline on 0845 606 7 607.
The helpline is available from 8am to 11pm seven days a week – voicemail and support options available at all other times.