In a year when farmers are struggling to cope with the exceptional challenges of an industry in crisis, volunteers are urgently being sought to lend a confidential listening ear.
Tir Dewi, an organisation that supports farmers in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, is searching for volunteers who understand the challenges specific to farming.
It is also seeking to appoint a co-ordinator to take on the day to day management.
The search comes at a time when referrals to Tir Dewi are climbing to “significant” levels, according to its chairman, Pembrokeshire farmer and Royal Welsh Agricultural Society chairman, John Davies.
Referrals are coming from a number of sources, notably financial institutions, the church, the Welsh Government’s advisory service and the farming unions.
“We do not provide professional advice, nor indeed direct financial support, but we are in a position to listen and to assist in the recovery from the position farmers find themselves in,” says Mr Davies, of Cwmbetws, Eglwyswrw.
“Whether those are financial, operational or welfare issues or associated with health or mental health, our volunteers will be trained to listen and to evaluate, to be a point of friendship, direction and support.”
Volunteers would need the time and skill to interact with people from the farming sector, he added.
“It is hugely important that our volunteers have empathy with the challenges related with farming and running a business, and to possess the capacity to listen, to reflect and to be able to refer to specialist advice support groups and individuals.”
The co-ordinator, a paid position, would be the first point of contact for calls and would be the lead on referrals.
Tir Dewi is the brainchild of the Bishop of St David’s, the Very Reverend Wyn Evans, and is being funded for three years by the Diocese of St David’s and the Prince’s Countryside Fund.
Its secretary, the Reverend Canon Eileen Davies, who has for 12 years been the Church in Wales rural life adviser for the Diocese of St David’s, says the issues underlying referrals are many but chief among these are financial worries associated with low milk prices and poor returns in other sectors.
“Farmers are feeling very uncertain about the future and this is causing a huge amount of worry,” she added.
“Rural isolation is a significant problem, too.
“Years ago, neighbouring farmers would support each other but with mechanisation and technology farmers are able to farm on their own so often they often do not speak to their neighbours.
“I am dealing with one case involving a farmer who has lost his wife. They worked on the farm and lived for each other but now he is on his own and at a total loss, he does not know anybody.
“Farmers are proud individuals who are often unwilling to ask for help. They do not want to be seen as the weakest link in the generations the family has farmed - but they do not realise that they may be facing a very different scenario to previous generations.”