All posts by Melissa Wylie

Working together for farmers at Balmoral 2019

Following on the success of the previous three years, Rural Support is once again joining forces with the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) and the Farm Families Health Checks Programme to highlight important health and safety issues facing the farming community.

This joint stand will offer a wide range of information and advice for farmers and farming families to help protect the greatest asset in the farm business – the farmer.

Rural Support’s recent ‘Resilient Farmers’ Conference,’ which delivered a key message that farmers’ health and building resilience within our farming community is the responsibility of everyone including government and statutory agencies, key stakeholders within the agricultural industry and farmers themselves. Following on from this conference, at this year’s show Rural Support will be continuing this theme of building resilience and will focus on highlighting how we as individuals, businesses and agencies can help those in the farming community who are struggling to cope with the pressures of farming. Rural Support will be asking representatives of those businesses and agencies and also visitors to the show to save its freephone helpline number 0800 138 1678 to their mobile phones.

Rural Support Chief Executive, Jude McCann said: ‘Due to the challenges and pressures of farming, farmers can sometimes be more susceptible to poor health and wellbeing. Many farmers are under significant pressure due to financial issues and debt problems, TB outbreaks, succession planning issues and increasing bureaucracy. At this year’s show we will again be promoting the need to look after our mental and physical health but also that we need to be aware of those individuals within our community, our workplace and even our own families who may not be coping with the pressures of farming. The onus is on us to assist and support those individuals to seek appropriate help. Even as you read this article – I ask that any individual who lives or works in the countryside, if you’re in contact with farmers or even if you have an interest in farming to please save Rural Support’s freephone helpline number 0800 138 1678 to your mobile phone. This means that you will have it to hand at all times should the need to contact us ever arise. It is vital that we start to build a community of support, a community where our farmers and farm families are resilient and one way of doing this is to recognise when we or someone we know isn’t coping with the pressures we are faced with and to seek help, whether that be for ourselves or encouraging others to do so.’

Rural Support will also be providing information on its ongoing services at the Balmoral Show which help to address issues that can cause added pressure for farmers, including:

  • stress and anxiety associated with increasing levels of debt;
  • farming paperwork;
  • physical and mental health concerns and
  • succession planning

The Balmoral Show runs from 15th to the 18th May 2019 at Balmoral Park, situated at Maze Long Kesh – off the M1, close to Lisburn. The HSENI/Farm Families Health Checks Programme/Rural Support will be at stand C67. Please call at the Rural Support stand to chat with our volunteers, mentors and staff members

For more information about Rural Support please contact the helpline on: 0800 138 1678 or visit: or follow us on Twitter: @RuralSupport

Rural Support hosts Resilient Farmers’ Conference

Rural Support recently hosted an important conference exploring the theme of farmers’ health and building resilience at CAFRE Greenmount, Antrim. The event was in partnership with Embrace FARM (ROI) and Farm Safety Foundation (UK) as well as being kindly sponsored by the Public Health Agency and NFU Mutual.

Approximately 160 individuals attended the conference with representatives from the agricultural industry, government agencies and departments, private sector, health and community organisations present.

The conference had a number of speakers who all delivered a key message that farmers’ health and resilience is the responsibility of everyone including government, statutory agencies and key stakeholders within the agricultural industry. The conference provided the opportunity for discussion and identification of opportunities and actions which could be taken forward across all sectors to safeguard farmers’ mental health and overall wellbeing.

Opening remarks at the conference were made by Paul Donnelly, DAERA, as well as Ivor Ferguson, Ulster Farmers Union. Both individuals noted that looking after the health and well-being of farmers is undoubtedly a challenging task and that a conference of this nature allows us all to examine current and emerging issues affecting the health and well-being of the farming population. They also highlighted the importance of building resilience to address these issues is both timely and significant.

Jude McCann, Chief Executive Rural Support stipulated that farmers’ health and wellbeing is everyone’s business and that we need to act upon it now. He reaffirmed this by disclosing to the audience that recent figures show that one farmer a week in the UK dies as a result of suicide. He continued to say that his recent Nuffield Scholar travels paved the way for this conference as he found in other countries such as New Zealand; that famers also experience ill mental health, but they have a model in place to help guide and support the farming community in such troublesome times. Jude finalised his report by asking the audience to make a pledge and help make a difference to this community today.

The experiences of farmers from Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and mainland UK were openly discussed onstage during ‘Fireside Chats’ throughout the day. The first ‘Fireside Chat’ gave a medical perspective from two health officials on what they feel are the barriers from individuals seeking help about their mental health issues. “Farmers are great at seeking help when it comes to the welfare of their animals, but not their own. They are a proud community and therefore feel it’s a sign of weakness and not the norm. This needs to change and we as a society need to showcase its ok not to be ok”, said Rebecca Orr, trainee GP.

The following ‘Fireside Chats’ were from a farmers perspective and involved not only farmers but a Rural Support Business Mentor. Here speakers told of their personal struggles with mental ill health, the impact and devastation caused as a result of a farm accident, the stresses of farming and how the very nature of farming itself has changed. The need to not only address mental health and wellbeing issues but also the need to address practical issues such as making a Will, appointing a Power of Attorney, having up to date accounts and planning ahead was also emphasised. The panel felt that communication between members of the farm family is key and every member has a responsibility to know what is happening and to share any burdens and stress that are causes of concern.

Byran Monson from the Health & Safety Executive NI explained to the attendees how a farm accident can cause mental health issues for both the farmer and the farm family and how they need to become more resilient to cope with this crisis. Such devastating consequences can cause relationship breakdowns, financial and legal issues as well as depression and anxiety. He continued to say that a farm is a business and that it needs to have several barriers in place to safeguard itself and everyone involved. However, there are several pressures upon a farmer and the farm business in order to make it sustainable and generate a significant income such as the Government, industry, family and other businesses. He urged attendees to look at not only the business but the famer as well and reminded us all that there is a person behind it all and that they are trying to survive and keep their head above water.

Keynote speaker for the event was Ian Marshall, Irish Senator and former UFU President. Ian spoke of the pressure to pass on the farm business, to the next generation, in a better condition in which they had received it. Ian reiterated the idea of needing to talk not only about our successes but also our failings. Farmers are reluctant to talk about their concerns, there is still very much a stigma attached to mental health and we have inherited a legacy of not talking about our problems. Ian touched on the role of women within the family farm, a role which he feels should not be overlooked. He commented that very often the woman is the counsellor and confidant to the farmer. The woman, whether that be a wife, daughter, sister or aunt is very often the glue which holds the farm family together. Ian urged that upcoming farmers should be better equipped to accept and deal with failings, to be able to talk more openly about their mental health and encouraged the industry, government and farmers to work together.

Stephanie Berkeley, Farm Safety Foundation urged attendees to take a stand for the farming community and to use their voice and stature to make a difference as farmers’ mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s business. She encouraged the audience to make a pledge and take the information discussed back to their own organisations and communities so that something can be done as its everyone’s responsibility.

Teresa McGarvey, Public Health Agency, emphasised the importance of working collaboratively, of seeking help early and to normalise mental health. She also spoke of the need to equip farmers with skills and coping strategies so that they can become more resilient in overcoming problems.

The conference was rounded off on a high note by the Farmers Choir who originally came together to support each other through ill health issues and found that music was a great way to deal with mental health issues and overall wellbeing.



President Michael D Higgins visits a Social Farm

A fantastic event was held this month to welcome President          Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina to An Tobar Community Wellness Centre and Social Farm in Silverbridge, South Armagh. Situated within the well-established horticulture business and farm of the Finnegan family, An Tobar was established as a social enterprise in April 2018 and is led by sisters Margaret and            Kathleen and their father Pat.
Social Farming is an innovative use of agriculture to promote therapy, rehabilitation, social inclusion, education and social          services in rural areas. The farm remains a typical working farm where people in need of support can benefit from participation in the farm’s activities in a non-clinical environment.
Since January 2019, the Finnegans have been delivering Social Farming sessions twice a week for six Learning Disability and Mental Health service users. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the Social Farming participants are supported to get involved with the normal farming and horticulture activities on-site. Participants get the opportunity to work with the cows, tend to plants in the polytunnel and garden areas, cut wood, and do general maintenance. The activities are varied and seasonal, allowing participants to develop a range of skills in a socially inclusive environment.
From April 2019, the Social Farming sessions at An Tobar will be extended to a third day each week to enable more service users to benefit from participation. The Finnegan family are committed to their Social Farming delivery and are looking        forward to welcoming new participants soon.
Rural Support have been supporting the Finnegan family in their Social Farming delivery and promoting its development across Northern Ireland through funding support from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs           (DAERA). If you would like further information on Social Farming you can contact Rural Support’s Social Farming Support Service on 028 86760040 or visit the Social Farming section of our website.



Healthy Cattle, Healthy Profits

Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Date: 21st November 2018
Registration: Opens at 9.30am
Conference finish time: 4.15pm
Location: CAFRE, Greenmount Campus

Fee: £20 per person

The conference has been jointly organised by UFU, CAFRE, LMC, AFBI and NBA

Bookings are online and to be paid at time of booking, please click here to book

Please note we will be taking questions online during the conference, if you have a smart phone please bring it with you

If you need assistance please contact Angela @ UFU HQ on 02890 370 222.

“Making Tax Digital” Business Planning Seminars Ready to Roll

Farm Family Key Skills (FFKS) is an initiative being managed by CAFRE and is a key element of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. The Business Planning theme of Farm Family Key Skills addresses the needs of farmers, farm family members and farm employees to increase their levels of knowledge and awareness in business planning. A number of seminars focusing on areas impacting on farm businesses have been organised by CAFRE in partnership with Rural Support to be delivered throughout Northern Ireland over the coming months starting on
Tuesday 13 November at Loughry Campus, CAFRE

Seminars will be delivered by industry professionals from local Accountancy firms. Topics covered include an overview and awareness of the new HMRC “Making Tax Digital” system including issues surrounding the submission of records, choice of appropriate software and the cost implications for the farm business.

This training is provided as part of the FFKS scheme under the Farm Business Improvement Scheme (FBIS) section of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which receives co-financing from the European Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

Enniskillen Accountant Tom Patton of Patton Rainey and Associates commented “Making Tax Digital is one of the most significant changes to have occurred in the past number of years. It will have a major impact on almost all farm businesses and as it comes into effect in April 2019 it is important that farmers get themselves up to speed with the changes. It is always important to plan ahead in any business, not only in the short term but also longer term and I would encourage farmers, farm family members and farm employees to attend one of these seminars where they will get a chance to hear from industry professionals on key issues related to the new “Making Tax Digital system”.”

Twenty Seminars will be delivered in local venues across Northern Ireland from November 2018 to March 2019, with additional dates for November confirmed as Grant’s Pub, Mayobridge on Monday 19th, the Silver Birch Hotel Omagh on Tuesday 20th, Enniskillen Campus on Wednesday 21st, Tirgan Community Association (Tirgan Hall), Moneymore on Monday 26th, Agri-food Biosciences Institute (AFBI) on Wednesday 28th and Magherabuoy House Hotel, Portrush on Thursday 29th of November. Doors open at 7.30 pm with seminars beginning at 8.00pm.

Gillian Reid and Jude McCann of Rural Support pictured discussing the importance of “Making Tax Digital” Business Planning seminars with Kenneth Johnston and Siobhan Sheppard of CAFRE who in partnership are offering a number of “Making Tax Digital” seminars throughout Northern Ireland starting in November 2018.

December events will be held in the Milestone Centre, Carrickmore on Monday 3rd, Greenmount Campus, Antrim on Monday 10th and Benedy Community Centre, Dungiven on Tuesday 11th December. Further event dates will be released in the New Year.

The seminars are free to farmers, members of the farm family and employees. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters within farm families would all benefit from attending a seminar. You don’t need to pre register so just come along on the night.

Registration for the Prince’s Countryside Farm Resilience Programme closing soon!

The Farm Resilience Programme which will be recommence in November 2018 in the Garvagh and Banbridge areas is aimed at dairy or beef and sheep farmers who are not currently practising benchmarking or engaged in a business development programme and who are looking at ways to improve their business and make efficiencies. Support will be provided through one to one on farm mentoring as well as a series of group workshops to be delivered by professional consultants. The workshops will focus on general business areas such as finance and business planning, making efficiencies and looking at new opportunities; as well as preparing for the future such as succession planning and change management post Brexit.

The programme will include support to look at the financial performance of your own enterprise through the use of a specially designed ‘business health check tool’. By completing the tool, it will help you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Then through the series of workshops you will be able to compare your business with others and identify ways in which you can improve your performance and create a stronger, more resilient farm business. Click on the link below to see an overview of the planned workshops.

If you wish to find out more or sign up please contact Gillian on 028 8676 0040 or

Workshop Overview 2018