Calls to a helpline for farmers in distress soared by 60% last year – fuelled by money worries and ongoing concern over single farm payment delays.

The Farm Crisis Network helpline is now busier that it has been since the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001, reveal the latest figures from the charity.

Some 391 calls were received by FCN volunteers during 2006. In addition, 931 farming households were visited in person after requesting help.

The figures suggest that at least one in 100 farming families are suffering serious problems that require outside assistance.

But the true figure of farming families in crisis could be even higher, according to FCN national co-ordinator Christopher Jones.

“Farming is a resilient industry and farmers are independent people who don’t like running for help,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“We look at this number as an indicator. If it is going up, which it is, it means there is more pain. But not all of that pain is coming our way.”

Mr Jones said: “It is a real concern that there are an increasing number of people in the farming community facing serious problems and difficulties.”

The charity expects its demanding level of workload to continue throughout 2007 with many challenges facing farming people and families.

Issues in the pipeline included new regulations and inspection regimes, as well as the constant downward pressure on farmgate prices, said Mr Jones.