Growing concerns for the strains being placed on Yorkshire’s farming community at a time of prevailing uncertainty has prompted the regional co-ordinator of a national farm help charity to go the extra miles to raise awareness of its lifeline support.
The Farming Community Network (FCN) helped some 6,000 people and took on 2,500 cases nationally in 2018 and the charity’s Yorkshire figurehead, Helen Benson, said it had been a busy start to 2019.
Despite the demand, she said she was concerned that there is still not enough awareness about the adversity facing farmers.
“It is a sad fact that poor mental health affects the farming community and it is documented that one farmer or farm worker per week dies by suicide,” said Mrs Benson, who is preparing to set out on an epic awareness and fundraising mission for FCN.
On Thursday, May 30, she is firing up her newly restored 1968 David Brown 880 tractor at the start of a journey that will take her more than 400 miles on a circumnavigation of Yorkshire in just over a week.
By embarking on the challenge, she hopes to raise £2,500 for FCN, to spread the word about the charity’s capacity to provide practical and pastoral support to farmers during difficult times, and to make more people aware of the importance of farming and the people who produce the food for the nation.
Mrs Benson, from West Tanfield near Ripon, said: “I hope that my efforts will help to raise the profile and importance of farmers and their families in Yorkshire.
“This is undoubtedly a daunting challenge, but one that I feel very passionately about. Farming is a fantastic industry to work in, but it is also one of the most volatile.”
With Brexit still to be decided amid continued political turmoil, firm farming policy decisions have yet to be enshrined in law, while future trading deals for agricultural goods remain uncertain.
Natural England’s recent decision to suddenly pull general bird control licences following a legal challenge at a particularly sensitive time of the farming year – although partly remedied since by some new licences being issued – is another example of the unpredictable operating environment that farmers work in.
Mrs Benson said: “Farmers are constantly facing challenges that are completely beyond their control and yet they are the most stoical hard working people who keep our country fed and our countryside beautiful.
“We need to continue to celebrate and appreciate our farmers everywhere.”
Explaining how the funds raised by her tractor run will help, she added: “FCN is on hand to support those who seek help during difficult times. The money raised from this tractor run will go a long way to ensuring that we can continue providing this support and helping farmers prepare for whatever the future may throw at them.
“It is an uncertain time, we are getting a lot of calls right now. The message about mental health is getting a lot of traction.
“If we can help early enough, we can help to avert tragedies or general stress within families.”
According to the charity’s communications manager, Sam Conway, FCN expects its workload to continue to rise this year.
“We anticipate an increase in workload throughout the country in the lead up to Brexit, which is why fundraising initiatives like Helen’s tractor run are so important,” he said.
Mrs Benson’s DB tractor was originally bought by her father William Sykes who farmed at Kelbrook, where the machine saw plenty of action over the years.
Having since fallen into disrepair, it has since been restored at a workshop in Holmfirth and Mrs Benson said her journey through Yorkshire will also be dedicated to her late father.
“I have had this challenge in mind for quite a long time now,” she said. “Now the tractor is ready, I’m all set.”
Her journey will start in the village of Elslack near Skipton, where her father originally purchased the tractor from Peter White.
A poignant start of Mrs Benson’s travels will see Mr White wave her off as she first heads south, passing through Slaithwaite where many generations of the Sykes family lived, and on to the DB factory-turned museum in Meltham, where her father’s tractor was made more than 50 years ago.
The route continues to Sheffield, then over the Humber to Spurn Head before veering north along the coast, then west to Richmond and Tan Hill at the top of the Yorkshire Dales.
The tractor run’s final leg will see Mrs Benson head back to Skipton before she finally arrives at her final destination, Newby Hall near Ripon for the start of Tractor Fest, the annual tractor festival.
Mrs Benson said any tractor owners would be welcome to join her for a leg of the journey.
Further information about the tractor run is available on ‘Helen Benson’s Great Yorkshire Tractor Run’ Facebook page, while donations can be made via the ‘Helen’s Tractor Run Across Yorkshire’ JustGiving page.
Anyone interested in taking part in some or all of her journey can contact Mrs Benson by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01677 470180.