ByDebbie James

Farm support charities are stepping up their activity amid a rising demand for their services during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pembrokeshire-based DPJ Foundation is handling a record number of calls while the west Wales-based farm support charity Tir Dewi extended its reach into Powys, Anglesey, Gwynedd and Conwy on September 23.

Although farmers often work in isolation, the loss of opportunities for social engagement, including shows and other events, is impacting on their mental health, warns Emma Picton-Jones, of the DPJ Foundation.

Many callers to the charity are younger people who are struggling with the lack of social contact, she says.

“We underestimate the importance of the YFC and the ability to meet up with friends and how this can be a saving grace for any youngster on a farm.’’

The absence of events has put pressure on funding for rural charities as these generate important income.

Gareth Davies, chief executive of Tir Dewi, says the gap will be felt going forward as the charity had in the past benefitted from collections at events such as harvest services and YFC pantomimes.

“Going forward, the lack of events and shows is going to be a financial worry,’’ Mr Davies admits.

But despite the pressure on finances, Tir Dewi has expanded geographically as more farmers are in need of support, he adds.

A survey of farmers had indicated a need to increase its reach beyond west Wales.

To facilitate its expansion, Tir Dewi has recruited volunteers to join its team in Powys and north Wales.

Demand for services is also high at other rural charities.

Economic stress is nothing new in agriculture but a global pandemic has added a new dimension, says Rob Harris, of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI).

Of the pandemic-related calls the charity is receiving, many are prompted by the loss of diversified income and income from off-farm work.

Other callers have challenges with rent and housing, such as losing tied accommodation due to furlough or redundancy.

Milk prices and payments have also been a major issue, says Mr Harris.