Twentieth year proving one of the most testing for helpline service

Helen Benson says 2015 has been a difficult year for the Farming Community Network.
Helen Benson says 2015 has been a difficult year for the Farming Community Network.
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IN ITS 20th year, The Farming Community Network has a challenge on its hands. As an organisation set up to provide support to farmers in need, a combination of factors are making its task all the more pressing.

But nethertheless, the charity’s band of volunteers are providing a daily telephone helpline service for farmers and their families to discuss the problems they are facing when they are stuck in a rut.

Helen Benson, co-ordinator of the FCN in Yorkshire, described 2015 as a year of “the most difficult combination of circumstances” which are proving demanding even on the most efficient of businesses, and potentially devastating for those farms with a heavy ratio of debt, or range of other issues threatening viability particularly for tenant farmers, and those in the sheep and dairy sectors.

Those age old problems of weather and commodity prices are at the heart of the desperate time faced by many, as Mrs Benson explained, with a cold spring effecting lambing of hill sheep and an intermittent summer meaning many wheat crops are yet to be harvested.

Mrs Benson said: “These are par for the course in the farming world, farmers may hope for, but don’t expect, top prices and optimum weather at the same time, however in 2015 a number of factors have collided to produce some of the most difficult circumstances farmers have faced for many years.

“A strong pound, over production of milk on a global scale resulting in a fall in wholesale prices well below the cost of production and worse: lamb prices which have fallen like a stone this year amidst early and heavy imports from New Zealand, and cereal prices a serious threat for arable producers. All these combine with an uncertainty in the new basic payment scheme due in December.”

It is a situation which may leave some farmers feeling helpless but the FCN want the farming community to know that there is help at hand.

“We offer first and foremost someone to talk to outside of the family and networks which a member of the farming community may not wish to discuss their private affairs,” Mrs Benson said.

“A feeling of failure and helplessness is common and is often a hard pill to swallow when you have been brought up to be independent, resourceful and resilient. However this is often not a fair assessment when there are so many outside factors affecting a business.

“We offer a helpline, a volunteer to speak to and discuss these problems, work out a solution or just be there whilst working through a difficulty and bringing in other professionals as and when necessary with permission. This may be health, relationships, financial or business support. Whatever it is we will help by being there in confidence for as long as needed.

“Our volunteers work tirelessly throughout the county to support people, sometimes by phone, visits or whatever is appropriate. Sometimes we work with other professionals but always in confidence and with permission.”

To prevent families from suffering in silence, the FCN holds occasional events in a bid to raise the organisation’s profile and to ensure everyone in the farming community knows what it offers and how it can be reached. Such events double up as fundraisers so that the FCN can continue to help where needed and for as long as needed and the next event is scheduled next weekend.

On Sunday, September 13, by permission of the Scaling family, a get-together for the farming community will be held over a hog roast at Cliff Farm in Sinnington, Ryedale, postcode YO62 6SS. From 12.30pm onwards there will also be live music, an auction and children’s fun and games with raffle. Tickets are £15 and can be ordered from Graham Bulmer by calling 07734 0794549.

The Farming Community Network’s helpline runs from 7am to 11pm every day of the year, call 03000 111 999.