By Terri Leonard
FARMERS in Northern Ire-land are being placed under an enormous amount of strain, with fears mounting that worry over the weather is taking a toll on their mental health.
According to farming charity Rural Support, unprecedented and prolonged wet weather in recent months, as well as recent heavy snowfall, has had an adverse and increasingly worrying impact on many farms, due largely to the problems associated with saturated ground.
The charity says this has sparked an increase in the number of calls being made to its helpline in recent months.
Eglinton farmer David Butler is just one of many farmers in Northern Ireland who have been severely affected by the storms.
He says the weather has had a big impact on his arable business, leaving him fearful for what the spring may hold for his farm.
He said: “The weather has had a devastating impact on my crops. 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.
He says struggling farmers feel like they have been forgotten about and described Rural Support as a “lifeline”.
“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.”
Jude McCann, Chief Executive of Rural Support, explained how many farming communities have been affected.
“Working in the agricultural sector is a difficult job, even without the additional stress and toll that severe weather conditions have on farming,” he said. “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.”
He believes that more needs to be done and called upon local politicians to react to this “crisis”.
“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.
“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.”
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.
q 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.