Graham Lilley is the new chair of the trustees at the Farming Community Network (FCN), a leading agricultural charity.
He explains why he got involved with the organisation and why the work it does is so important in the countryside, given the issues that farmers are facing.
FCN, which has a strong Christian ethos, has helped thousands of farmers with business, family, health and farm issues.
What are your farming connections?
I worked on a dairy farm in Cheshire as a teenager and was due to go to Reaseheath agricultural college. That never happened and in 1973 I started working for Barclays Bank and, as the years passed, climbed the ladder in banking.
In 1996 I was asked if I wanted to start working in the agricultural sector in the bank. It was a dream come true as I was getting back to what I had always wanted to do. I put energy into learning about the industry and getting involved in the farming community, part of which was a 12-year connection with The Hertfordshire Agricultural Society, initially as treasurer and latterly as chairman.
Why did you get involved with FCN?
I first heard of FCN as they were establishing a group in Hertfordshire and asked if we could give them a free stand at the county show, which we did. Then before I retired from work I made contact with the FCN group in Yorkshire, where we had moved to in 2012.
The first conversations were to see if volunteers were needed and I quickly got involved with case work. It didn’t take long to realise the good work done by FCN. I wanted to put something back to society – and what better way than to do something that I am really passionate about and that suits my skills.
- Helpline: 03000 111 999 (7am-11pm every day)
- e-Helpline: firstname.lastname@example.org
- To make a donation in support of FCN’s work, please go to www.fcn.org.uk
What are the main issues causing stress and hardship at the moment?
The cash position of many farm businesses is stretched (in some instances because of BSP-related issues). Commodity prices are depressed across all sectors and cost of production must be buttoned down if businesses are to survive.
Health issues are also prevalent and the stress of prolonged periods of hard work, financial pressures and possibly family concerns can bring on illness.
The complete food chain needs to be connected, farmers, shopper and supermarket, so that all in the chain are fully aware of the others positions. The drive for reduced food prices, legislative recording and timely supply ultimately puts pressure on the core producer, the farmer.
How can FCN help?
We have coverage throughout the country and a team of dedicated and professional volunteers supported by a capable and proactive head office team.
This means that we can help farming families and walk with them through difficult times providing practical and pastoral support and, where necessary, put them in touch with other sources of professional help.
We have a significant role to play in making sure that any farming family in the country who needs help through their own stressful time gets that help before they really do reach the end of their tether.
Are farming families generally prepared to ask for help?
It is the most difficult thing in the world for anyone to ask for help. All the more so for farmers who are generally very proud, independent and passionate about their farm, family and business. If they ask for help some may consider that to be a sign of failure.
This is certainly not the case so we are trying to get over this hurdle by being active in the community by attending livestock markets, agricultural shows and discussion groups.
We will never know all farmers but those that we do know should be able to point a friend in need towards us. Asking for help frequently takes a great deal of courage but it is the first positive step towards regaining control of ones affairs.
What is your sense of how 2016 will be for farmers?
I don’t think it will be easy but then it never is. Year 2015 has provided a bumper harvest for many, but depressed prices across all sectors are not making for bumper profits.
The dairy industry, if it is recovering, has a lot of ground to make up and many are still leaving the industry which can be a very traumatic time for the family.
There continues to be pressure on the price that we pay for food. Finances will be tight for many, which is a concern for the future investment which the industry needs.
Would you advise a young person to pursue agriculture as a career?
The industry needs bright, enthusiastic and hard-working young people. However, the cost of entry to getting your own farm is enormous.
We like to hear in the press of those who have been successful in starting a farming business but in truth they are few and far between.
Farming is full-on and you should do it because you want to and not because you have to. There are many and varied ancillary career opportunities that require top-class agricultural and countryside knowledge.
So I would recommend that a youngster sets their sights on a realistic goal and then aims to be the best they can possibly be at their chosen career. So, yes, I would – but make sure you get a good education first.
How does FCN’s Christian ethos guide its work?
We maintain our Christian identity while serving anyone in the farming community of all faiths and none. We act in ways that respect the dignity, uniqueness and intrinsic worth of every person.
What is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?
Dance like you think nobody is watching. Translated to everyday life, I suppose this means enjoy each day and lead your life with a smile on your face.