Beef farmers have had a dreadful time in the last few years. But is the rest of UK farming really in crisis?

It is not just the problems of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) which merits the associated term 'crisis'. Other farmers are also facing financial difficulties. With milk costing at least 2p per litre more to produce than it is worth, bottled water beats it in price! Lamb prices have given sheep farmers little hope and grain is typically half the price received two decades ago! As a result 18,000 left UK farming last year (1999) leaving only 1.7% of the UK working population on farms.

The public seems to have turned against farming in recent years. How should Christians view the farming industry?

It is worth remembering that the average British household spends just 10% of their disposable income on food, compared to 75% 100 years ago. We are greatly blessed by the improvements in farming technology – too often the sensational news masks the reality.

What are the causes of stress for farmers?

Growing isolation is an over-arching cause of rural stress which is increased by a whole host of factors: including declining rural services; rising rural crime; percentage decline of farmers in rural society leading to social marginalisation; post-War II quantitative and qualitative success of farm product output at ever-cheaper prices (relative to costs of production; remote, The really big one faceless bureaucracies unpredictably administering complex subsidies; past overlending by Banks against the security of land, with high interest rates; subjection of agriculture to growing speculation in world money markets.

What are the biggest fears that farmers face?

They face the fear of bankruptcy; loss of health, job and farm; fear of relationships loss, notably marriage breakdown. And often the fear of facing facts about their situation - leading to alcohol, to mask it.

How have farmers found help?

In a crisis, farmers probably have most to gain from sharing their situation with other practical farmers, but may be reluctant to share with other farmers owing to natural reticence, to fear of seeming a failure in front of peers or for fear that it may be other farmers who may gain from his/her business failure - UNLESS there has been a prior build-up of mutual respect and confidence.

What is the Farm Crisis Network(FCN)?

The Network is based on local groups of volunteers concerned about farming families who understand the stresses and complications of farming. They include farmers, farmers’ wives, agriculturalists, agricultural chaplains and church workers. FCN has been developed since 1993 and currently operates in ten counties in the UK, mostly in the south and midlands. A similar work exists in US, Germany and New Zealand

How has FCN responded to the recent crises?

The FCN has taken the view that 'Farm Asset Resource Management Study' 'FARMS' groups are needed. These are on-farm small group meetings (of around twelve farmers gathering monthly on each other's farms. In these meetings they share information about their farming practice and invite comment from the others. FARMS groups began last year in Devon in conjunction with the Rural Convenor for the Diocese of Exeter, farmer Revd.

David Ursell, having seen the success of similar groups during the past three decades in other countries. In addition FCN still operates listening services for those who admit they have already hit a particular crisis.

How should UK Christians respond to the crisis? Should we buy British?!

They can start by taking the time to try to understand the pressures on the farming community and then praying for the needs as they find them.

Where possible buy local produce, and urge supermarkets to stock local produce which will benefit the farmers in their area, who are often squeezed out by competition. They may wish to support the Farming in Crisis Network financially by contacting the number below, or set up a local network themselves.

For further details about FCN phone 01788 510866. Or write to: FCN c/o ACF, 38 De Montfort Street, Leicester LE1 7GP