Farmers’ lives are being put at risk by the ongoing single farm payments delays, the acting head of the Rural Payments Agency, Mark Addison, was warned during NFU Council.

Cornwall NFU county chairman Peter Clarke, who also works for the Farm Crisis Network, said he had never witnessed such anxiety and depression among farmers.

“We are heading for an implosion in the rural community and enough is enough.

Every day that goes by another farmer is consigned to the undertakers,” he said.

Mr Clarke had been told of three farming suicides in the West Country in the past week, and although they might not be directly attributable to the SFP delays, they were likely to be related to money concerns.

“I represent a large group of farmers who are in a desperate situation,” he said.

Cumbria county chairman Trevor Wilson reinforced the point by telling Mr Addison that there must be some kind of way to get money to farmers.

“We don’t want farmers’ deaths on our hands over this – and it is that important right at this moment,” he said.

“I have members ringing me up and you cannot believe the situation that they are in.

You have farmers’ lives in your hands.”

The warnings came as farming helplines said they were growing increasingly concerned about the welfare of farmers, many of whom are in a desperate and depressed state.

Farm Crisis Network and Rural Support Information Network have both reported an increase in the number of people calling their helplines.

FCN said calls in the first three months of 2006 were 46% higher than the number of calls in the same period in 2005.