DONT LET CRISIS BECOME TRAGEDY
Business stress can so
easily lead to despair but
people are willing to help so
dont delay, call a helpline
today. Tessa Gates reports
PIG farming has never provided the most predictable of incomes but the sudden downturn in prices last year hit producers hard on all sides, financially, physically and emotionally.
It has taken its toll. Farmers from the pig industry accounted for half of the suicides in agriculture in 1998 – 26 lives lost and countless others disrupted, people left reeling from the shock of such drastic actions.
Declines in any sector of the industry hit whole families, not just the working farmer. Often it is wives who have to cope with the stress-induced outbursts or depressive silences. Yet they are worried also and are often only too aware of the full extent of the financial situation through keeping the farms books.
Farmlife talked to one pig farmers wife who felt she had to do something to help. She prefers to remain anonymous and we will call her Katie.
* How to cope?
"Wives were saying what can we do, how do we cope," says Katie. She didnt have ready answers but she knew some people who did, and a whole raft of organisations have joined together to provide telephone helplines to people willing to offer a listening ear, advice and help.
We have reproduced the helpline list here – cut out and pin it up where someone who might need it can see the telephone numbers or telephone them yourself if you are worried about a relative, friend or colleague.
Try using this feature as a bridge to reach someone who is silently brooding on the difficulties they face but cant or wont talk about them.
"If someone is going silent on you it could be a way to start a conversation," says Katie. "Dont let a crisis turn into a tragedy."
She has seen at first hand how people try to cope on their own but this is no answer in the long run.
"We know of someone whose pig business went bankrupt five years ago but he decided to give it another go, this time using the straw system and implementing every welfare friendly measure. His money had been spent on expansion and complying with the rules – then the bottom fell out of the market.
"He had to let his labour go and is now working all hours trying to do everything himself. He is single but has no time for a social life and is very lonely. He needs to know if there is a light at the end of the tunnel," says Katie.
The helplines could aid him and others like him to make the decision about continuing in pigs. By taking the time to make a few telephone calls, they could get the latest MLC short term economic forecast for pigmeat, financial advice from Deloitte and Touche, a leaflet, Fresh Optionsfrom the BPA for pig farmers facing a new future, help from NFU to sort out difficulties with contracts and repossession threats and a leaflet about social security benefits which may be available.
"The RABI has been really fantastic with short term financial help, too,"says Katie, who tells of friends waking at three in the morning dreading what bill the next post will bring.
"If you are at risk financially dont wait until it gets out of control. Talk to your bank and try to restructure your loan, get the debt spread over a longer repayment term. Go to them with a business plan and they will look more favourably at your proposals," she says.
* Sympathetic ears
In addition to practical help there are people on the helplines list who offer a sympathetic ear for those who simply want to talk – about themselves or someone they are worried about.
It is sad thing that too many men prefer to worry in silence rather than share their troubles. Too many women feel they have to take the burden of the whole familys stress unaided. This is dangerous and unnecessary. Dont allow your loved ones to do this.
Be aware: sometimes it is the people seeming to cope that are nearest crisis point. Watch out for irrational decisions; loss of temper over something very minor; unusual behaviour.
Dont delay – get help and start talking.
"Agricultural chaplain, Rev George King is a personal contact and it can be a tremendous comfort to talk to him. He has kept pigs in the past; he understands farming," says Katie, highlighting just one of the people willing to offer a listening ear.
A very practical way that everyone in the industry can help in the long term is by promoting British pork products. Katie would like everyone to cut out the marks of distinction – shown below left – and pass it on to non-farming friends explaining that pork, bacon and ham carrying these comes from farmers committed to high standards of animal welfare, quality control and traceability.
"Ask them to look out for the mark and encourage them to buy British pork and if pork products bearing it are not on display demand to know why not," says Katie.
She is pleased that the support groups have pulled together to provide the helplines and appreciates the hard work and effort. "If it saves just one life, it will be worth it," she says.
HELPLINES TO PEOPLE WILLING TO OFFER A LISTENING EAR
Tel: 01379 742091 9am to 5pm
01449 711250 after 5pm
Fax: 01379 742092
RURAL STRESS INFORMATION NETWORK
Tel: 01203 412916 9am to 5pm
REV GEORGE KING
Tel: 01582 841648
Tel: 0345 909090 (charged at local call rate)
Newmarket 01638 672100
Skelmersdale 01695 554900
Uppingham 01572 824250
Liss 01730 408000
York 01904 451550
Tel: 01923-234377 9am to 5pm
Fax: 01923 211924
Tel: 01908 844 281
Fax: 01908 609221
Tel: 01865 727888; 01865 724931
Jean Turnbull and her team of volunteers are manning the helpline and offer a first line of contact.
The Samaritans offer an opportunity to talk through anything that is troubling you.
NFU REGIONAL OFFICES Regional policy advisors.
Telford 01952 400500
Exeter 01392 440700
Swansea 01792 774848
Eynsham 01865 887800
NFU Orderline 0891-338700 Social security benefits advice leaflet.
DELOITTE & TOUCHE 0171 331 7324/7326 Recovery Services for farmers.
"Fresh Options" for pig farmers facing a new future. Telephone for details.
Information on the short-term outlook for the pigmeat market.
Telephone If you know a farmer in difficulty and you think RABI might be able to help.