Helpline calls relating to bovine TB are double that of last year, according to newly-appointed chief of the Farm Crisis Network (FCN) Charles Smith.
Mr Smith, who took over from previous FCN chief Sarah Brown, says that FCN’s national network of volunteers have seen “a significant increase” in the number of farmers reporting concerns about the disease.
The news comes as FCN braces itself for an influx of calls from drought-stricken farmers.
“Apart from bovine TB, my real concern for the near future is the impact of the drought,” said Mr Smith. “Crop yields and quality will suffer, whilst feed and fodder supplies will be both costly and in short supply. Arable farmers will have to deal with difficult negotiations regarding forward contracts for grain whilst the impact for livestock farmers is clear.
“Financial issues already account for over 60% of our helpline calls and all this adds up to increased pressure on an already fragile community. It’s difficult to predict what the weather is going to do next, but could have a real impact later in the year.”
Earlier this year FCN launched a TB support package enabling all TB-affected cattle farmers to access free support from specially trained FCN volunteers, including information on where to go for specialised help and advice.
“All our volunteers are well equipped to support those affected by bTB,” said Mr Smith. FCN is well prepared to support farmers who are at risk or are suffering from the impact of this terrible disease.”
FCN can be contacted on their helpline 0845 367 9990 or via their website.
Charles joined FCN on the 1 June after holding various posts in the farm machinery sector, including Massey Ferguson and AgCo.
In his first few months of his new post he’ll be spending time meeting FCN’s 300 volunteers and getting to know the key stakeholders in the farming world to get a more in-depth understanding of the key issues affecting farming – especially in the livestock sector.
In the longer term, Mr Smith is hoping to explore how FCN can become more proactive in trying to help the farming community avoid issues that lead to distress.
“We’d like to find ways of encouraging more farmers to contact us earlier, before issues become acute and more difficult to manage,” he said. “We also want to examine ways of creating more sustainable funding for FCN. Our needs are modest, but having more dependable streams of income would help us greatly, especially when we are working through peaks in demand for our support.”
Reflecting on his first 10 days as FCN chief, Mr Smith said that he had been struck by the dedication of the organisation’s volunteers.
“I have been really impressed by the wonderful work done by the volunteers in support of those in the farming community going through difficult times. Most of the volunteers are rural people, and many are farmers themselves, so they really understand the problems our callers are faced with – they’re a real inspiration.”
• FCN supporters can make regular monthly donations of any amount via the charity’s Just Giving page.