CONCERNS are growing about the risk to farmers’ mental health in Ludlow and south Shropshire after three suicide incidents in as many months in the area.

And the organisation that supports farmers in crisis fears this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Rural Support Network says things are about to get even more difficult for farmers as they find out this week how much money they will get from the Single Farm Payment.

Husband and wife Richard and Tracey Huffer are both county councillors who live on and run a farm on Clee Hill – they say it is essential to raise awareness of the problem.

Tracey Huffer, who is also a nurse and Shropshire council’s member for Ludlow East , said the latest figures show 33 people have taken their own lives in Shropshire this year.

“Many of them will have been farmers,” she said.

Richard Huffer, Shropshire’s member for Clee, believes people who are not involved in the industry have little or no idea what the pressures are.

“What people do not appreciate is the isolation that comes with working in farming,” he said.

“People also have little idea of the financial pressures existing in farming, especially the smaller farmers in places like south Shropshire.”

“It is an increasing challenge just to make ends meet on top of problems like TB, which is very serious in this area.”

In recent days dairy farmers have been hit by a further cut in milk prices that do not meet to cost of production.

“I think people would be shocked if they knew how many farmers are on anti-depressant medication and in need of help,” he added.

Mr Huffer said this was a particularly difficult time with many farmers’ waiting for their Single Farm Payment from the Government.

The Single Farm Payment is an EU subsidy to farmers based upon the amount of land. Payments are made in the UK by the Rural Payments Agency, which is part of Defra.

“It is absolutely vital to many farmers in our area and in many cases makes the difference between survival and going under,” said Mr Huffer.

Clifford Evans, who founded the Shropshire Rural Support Network in 1991 in response to the number of farming suicides said after a period in which the numbers of people working in agriculture who took their own lives was reduced, is worried that the number may be rising again.

“There are huge financial pressures but in my experience these can usually be managed but when other problems such as relationship breakdowns and health issues pile in on top the breaking point can come,” said Mr Evans.

He fears that the statistics may only tell a fraction of the story.

“Coroners are very sympathetic to the sensitivities of families and if they possibly can return an accidental death verdict instead of a suicide my experience is that they will. There are many more suicides than show in the statistics.”

“My message is that there is help available and I would ask farmers to check over the farm gate and keep an eye on their neighbours.”

For more information call 01743 790033