By Alistair Driver
ONE in 10 tenant farmers is taking anti-depressants to help alleviate stress brought on by the fear of losing their livelihood and their home.
Tenant farmers, with no land or house as an asset, falling livestock values eroding the assets they do have and rent payments to keep up, are particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of the farming crisis. This is reflected in levels of depression running at around twice the national average, according to a NFU report.
The report, based on the experiences of over 1000 of the unions tenant members, reveals the strain is keeping 70% of them awake at night, while a quarter are having marital problems due to the crisis. An astonishing 60% of tenant farmers fear they will lose everything nothing changes.
About 23,000 tenant farmers (18% of full-time farmers) currently rent land and farm buildings covering more than 5.5m ha (13.6m acres) in the UK. More than half are in danger of falling behind with rent payments, while 60% have been forced to lay of staff the report shows. It also reveals that the hardships are being compounded by rising interest rates on loans, banks refusing to loan money and local authorities refusing planning permission when farmers try to diversify.
The report will be used by the NFU to increase the pressure on the government to help farmers. NFU tenant committee chairman Ken Oliver said delegates at an NFU conference designed to provide information and help for tenant farmers, in Stoneleigh, Warks, on Tuesday, were shocked to find so many people requiring medication to get them through the day.
Union president Ben Gill said this is particularly worrying given that there was more than one farming suicide a week last year.
Tenant Farmers Association chairman Reg Haydon said he is aware of the extent of the problem as he is regularly telephoned by distressed farmers, often at night, fearing for the future.
"When a tenant farmers business fails he loses everything," he said. He called for the government to introduce an early retirement scheme "to allow tenant farmers to leave the industry with dignity".
He also stressed the benefits of organisations such as the Rural Stress Network, an umbrella organisation formed in 1996 which offers help and advice to distressed farmers and other members of the rural community and puts them in touch with other support groups.
It has received an unprecedented number of calls this year, said the RSNs Ann-Marie Wells who believes the NFU reports figure of one in 10 farmers on anti-depressants probably underestimates the current situation, as farmers are often slow to admit they have a problem.
A 1998 report by Professor Hawton, of the University of Oxford, which concluded farmers are "experiencing considerable stress", described them as "independent and proud and reluctant to share problems."
"We urge farmers to visit the doctor and call us or other support groups if they are experiencing problems," said Ms Wells.
To contact the Rural Stress Network ring 024-7641 2916