Struggling farmers increasingly need help, charity warns

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Media captionFiona Jones and her son Rhys said help from Rabi helped keep the farm going

A dramatic rise in working farmers struggling to make ends meet is being seen in Wales, a charity has warned.

The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Rabi) has traditionally helped retired farmers and workers.

But it gave working farming families 84% more in the first six months of 2016 than in the same period of 2015.

The Welsh Government said it was "committed to supporting farmers to ensure farming is a prosperous and resilient industry".

  • Between 1 January and 15 July 2016, Rabi Cymru gave out welfare worth £60,258 to families still working on farms
  • For the same period in 2015 it was £32,739
  • Looking at welfare support for all ages across Wales, the charity paid out £164,173 in the first half of 2016
  • This is an increase of 32% on the £124,354 for the same period last year
  • As a result, the share of the cash going to working families rose from 26% to 36%

Nearly a third of help had gone to farmers in Brecon and Radnor, the charity said, with an 84% increase in cash help given to working farming families in those areas over the same period.

Elaine Stephens, Rabi Cymru's Brecon and Radnor chairwoman, said extreme weather and family circumstances could all affect farmers at different times, but low prices were the main reason this year.

"It's very difficult for farmers when they don't know what price they're going to have at the end of the day, and most market prices are depressed at the moment," she said.

Help has included assistance with electricity bills, she added.

"Many can be only a step away from quite difficult circumstances.

"If a farmer is struggling to pay his household bills then children and his wife are affected.

"Farming is a very lonely industry and farmers can feel very isolated."

Ms Stephens said it was important to remember that equipment like tractors and 4x4 vehicles were "tools of the job", and not luxury items which could be sold off.

'Bare bones'

Fiona Jones is running a family farm near Knighton, Powys, with her son Rhys and daughter Nerys.

She moved 12 years ago to the council-owned holding with her husband Simon, building it up from 118 acres (48 hectares) to 190 acres (77 hectares).

But he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and died just before Christmas 2015.

Image caption Fiona Jones (centre) says some families may be 'too proud or embarrassed' to ask for help

Mrs Jones had help from Rabi in applying for sickness benefits for her husband when he was ill and a grant towards accommodation so she could visit him when he was in hospital, 60 miles away.

She also gave up work to help run the farm, as did Rhys who was a store manager.

"Our farm paid the day-to-day bills and my job off farm helped pay for anything extra," said Mrs Jones.

"When you've not got that income, you're really down to the bare bones.

"I think there are a lot of families out there who are perhaps too proud or embarrassed to ask for help.

"I'm glad we asked for help - it made a huge difference to us."

Rhys added: "It's difficult to earn a living out of it, it's a difficult time and with Europe [following the vote for Brexit] it's uncertain times too.

"But I do love the job - I've worked in an office and there's something about the lifestyle being outdoors.

"There's a part of me that knows Dad worked very hard to get where he was and I didn't want it to go to waste."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We are committed to supporting farmers to ensure farming is a prosperous and resilient industry.

"Through the Strategic Framework for Agriculture and our Action Plan for Food and Drink we are working side by side with farmers to put Welsh agriculture on the best possible footing for the future.

"We are also protecting farmers by raising the minimum amount they can earn."

Paul Davies, the Welsh Tory spokesman on rural affairs, claimed successive Welsh Governments had failed to give farmers the support they needed.

"In this new political era, it is vital Labour ministers work hand-in-hand with the industry to ensure any new-look support packages fit the bill, and our farming industry fulfils its massive potential," he said.

"Nothing should be ruled out - including more accessible business development funding for hard-pressed farmers - to ensure ambitions can be realised, and farms have more opportunities, and space, to expand and succeed."

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