Young farmers bearing greatest mental health burden since foot and mouth, Yorkshire youth leaders warn

A generation of young farmers may be bearing the greatest mental health burden since the days of foot and mouth, youth leaders warn, as challenges mount in the wake of growing pressures.

Many young farmers have spent months in an effective rural isolation, bodies have warned, removed from the social support networks of schooling and clubs.

The past 18 months has been among the most difficult faced by the region's rural communities in 20 years, charities say, with this proving acute for an incoming generation.

Many have spent months in an effective rural isolation, the county chair of the Yorkshire Young Farmers Edward Bentley has warned, removed from the social support networks of schooling and clubs.

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After charitable bodies met to share networks over pressures from flooding to finances and housing, as well as mental health, there are calls for broader conversations over such support.

Many young farmers have spent months in an effective rural isolation, bodies have warned, removed from the social support networks of schooling and clubs. Picture: Marisa Cashill

"There's been a huge amount of change, and there are huge mental health pressures," said Mr Bentley.

"They've probably not seen this in recent history - the biggest challenge we can relate to is with foot and mouth where people's livelihoods were lost overnight."

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Charitable leaders gathered under the umbrella of the Farming Help Hub earlier this month, brought together by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) at the Great Yorkshire Show (GYS).

This vast support showcase, aimed at demonstrating the breadth of help available, saw representatives from groups partnering the Yorkshire Rural Support Network (YRSN).

Among them, The Addington Fund, Farming Community Network (FCN), Yellow Wellies, Forage Aid, Samaritans, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI).

Bill Young, chief executive of The Addington Fund which provided disaster support after flooding at Swaledale in 2019, spoke of how many of Yorkshire's rural areas are built on farming bedrock, with a drive to repopulate village communities at risk of becoming "ghost towns".

"We have to keep it intact," he said. "If you take farmers out of the equation, these communities die."

Pressures

Andrew Ward, founder of Forage Aid which helped flood hit communities in Reeth and Fishlake in Doncaster, highlighted the impact of such pressures on rural communities.

"There's more of a need for farmers than there ever has been," he warned. "And more of a need for farming charities, because farming can be a difficult place to live and work."

And with challenges proving particularly acute in the midst of upheaval following Brexit and changes to agricultural policies, Christine Ryder, Yorkshire chair of the YRSN, said it is "hugely important" to raise awareness of the breadth of support that is available.

"People are proud, it can be hard to ask for help," she added.

For many young people, the Yorkshire Young Farmers now warns, the challenge can be a heavy weight to bear.

Opportunity for change

Over recent decades a great number of farming families have diversified to create income streams and yet many such industries were also closed overnight last March, said Mr Bentley.

Ageing rural communities face particular challenge, with younger people struggling to get that first foot on the ladder and a changing picture over opportunities for succession.

For many young people in Yorkshire's remotest communities, he added, they have found themselves uniquely isolated for long periods over the past year.

The Yorkshire Young Farmers, with 45 clubs across the region, has seen a sudden surge in interest among younger people keen to join to connect with others.

"Farmers quite often have that stiff upper lip, that thick skin," said Mr Bentley. "It takes a lot for farmers to open up. "This is an opportunity for change.

"What we are trying to do is bring everybody together to highlight support. It's as much about talking as anything. That support is there if needed."

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