Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Stress down on the farm

Last week the Welsh Government Minister for Natural Resources and Food, Alun Davies, visited farmers in Trefeglwys in north Powys, to speak to them about the impact of the recent severe weather when hundreds of animals had perished in snowdrifts. The farmers had been hopeful, I suspect, of some financial support. But their hopes were quickly dashed. No money was to be made available to bail them out during this particular crisis. They just had to get by.

As one of them commented to the newspaper reporter – “some farmers are at breaking point over the situation.”

Since then, however, there appear to have been a few developments.
In a press statement yesterday the Minister announced that £500,000 will go to farm charities “to help address problems caused by severe weather conditions.”

The charities concerned are the Farming Community Network (previously the Farm Crisis Network), the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and the Addington Fund.

But not all struggling farmers will seek the support they need. In 2005 the Health & Safety Executive produced a report on Farmers, Farm Workers and Work-Related Stress, following research in five counties including Powys.

It reported that: “The difficulty for support organisations was in creating a climate where farmers felt comfortable discussing worries and concerns with outside agencies at a point before they became unmanageable, and required more intensive support....

[Other studies] uncovered a reluctance to seek specialist help, reflecting the stigma these communities associated with mental illness, their worries about anonymity, and appearing not able to cope.”

I wonder how much has changed since the report was produced? Farming crises are never going to go away. Foot & Mouth Disease, the vagaries of the weather, a rise in feed costs, a fall in market price for produce... Some help at this time of crisis came eventually, but only reluctantly, with the Minister rounding off his offer of support with frank words – “for the long-term resilience of the industry it needs to move away from a dependence on public support...”

Do you know any farmers who have struggled with work-related stress in this recent crisis? Are you a farmer, what do you think? What kind of support, other than financial, is really needed?

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