Farmers across the UK do not feel valued by either government or wider society, the chief executive of a rural charity has told a committee of MPs.

At a meeting in Westminister on Tuesday, a frank assessment of mental health within UK agriculture was presented by Jude McCann, who is originally from Moneymore and now heads up the Farming Community Network in England.

“My parents and grandparents were very proud farmers and food producers, but what I have noticed over the last couple of years is many of the people who contact us do not feel valued,” he said.

“We need to change that narrative. We need to realise that every one of us in society depends on farmers three times a day, but not many of us think about it in those terms,” McCann added.

Financial pressure was the most common reason for farmers contacting the Farming Community Network in the past, but this has now been overtaken by mental health and wellbeing.

“There are two sides to this. One aspect is that more people are comfortable about talking about their mental health. It also shows that, although the last two years has put additional pressure on all of society, it is compounded in the farming community due to isolation,” McCann said.

Payment cuts

MPs were warned that the planned cuts to the Basic Payment Scheme in England, coupled with rising input costs, could have unintended consequences within the agriculture industry.

McCann drew from his experience in New Zealand, where he worked for seven years conducting research on the impact of the removal of farm subsidies during the 1980s.

“Often I heard the phrase ‘it weeded out the weaker farmers’. The reality of it was some of the best business people in the farming community were also forced out,” he explained.

“If you happened to be carrying debt in the mid 1980s, which the most progressive farmers were, when interest rates went through the roof, some of the most successful businesses were forced out of the industry,” McCann said.