Dairy farmer killed himself over fears he would lose business

A veteran dairy farmer threw himself under a train after being pushed to breaking point by the stress of modern farming in Britain, an inquest heard.

Herbert John Michael Batkin, 73, died from catastrophic injuries after being struck by the speeding locomotive on 1 August.

The grandfather-of-13 – known to his family as Mike – was found dead 825m down the track near to Prees railway station in Shropshire.

An inquest heard the experienced farmer had been struggling to cope with the business due to mounting financial worries and fears he might lose his livelihood.

Just two days before his death police confiscated guns from his home in Prees, Shropshire, after doctors became concerned about his depressed state.

See also: Dairy farmers forced to sell award-winning herd

On Friday (21 November) John Ellery, coroner for Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin, recorded a verdict of suicide.

The tragedy comes as senior figures in the agricultural industry warned farmers were being pushed to breaking point, with many going bankrupt.

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Although semi-retired, Mr Batkin was still carrying out day-to-day tasks on the farm including milking the cows.

Dr Martin Sullivan, who had seen the farmer just days before he died, said in a statement Mr Batkin had asked for more sleeping pills as he was worried about the farm.

Dr Sullivan’s statement said: “He had a long history of depression and noted stress with farming.

“He explained he wrote a note in case anything happened to him, the implication being that he might try to harm himself. He said the note was just in case and he had written it a while ago.

“I explained I needed to contact the police to remove his firearms. I called the police and arranged for the guns to be removed and I called the crisis team and asked them to support him.”

He said Mr Batkin was planning the future and agreed to go back for a review in one week.

His wife, Dorothy, told the inquest that she heard her husband get up at around 2am, which was not unusual, but she never heard him return.

Mr Batkin’s son, Kevin, said after the hearing: “Farming was just one of his worries. It is a stressful job.

“The industry is under quite a lot of pressure business-wise and the hours we have to do are long.

“You can’t just switch off and you don’t finish at 5pm.

“He had not suffered from depression for over 15 years but the way the industry is at the minute must have brought it all back.

“Unfortunately, that’s the state of modern British farming. More and more farmers and being left helpless and increasingly losing their farms.

“They just can’t compete with the big supermarkets and producers slashing milk prices like they have.”

The Farm Community Network (FCN) said farmers were facing mounting pressures including bovine TB, volatile milk prices and extreme weather.

Charles Smith, its chief executive, added: “It is a big problem.

“Farmers’ tough breeding means they could be more reluctant to talk about their worries for fear of appearing weak.”

Dairy farmers have been rocked by six months of milk price cuts, which has seen the average producer lose 6p/litre.

They say the average 25p/litre they are receiving for their milk is 5p/litre less than it costs them to produce it.

Over the past six weeks, dairy lobby group Farmers For Action (FFA) has led a sustained campaign of direct action targeting supermarkets and processors.

The campaign, which has targeted Muller Wiseman, Morrisons and Iceland among others, calls on processors and supermarkets to reverse the latest price cuts to help dairy farmers who are being pushed to the brink.

Read also: Suicide – investigating a farming taboo

Crisis call double as more farmers seek help

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