‘Fear is stalking the countryside’ minister warns synod in Belfast (2000)
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That was the stark message which was heard by those attending the Church of Ireland General Synod at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast during this week in May 2000, reported Farming Life.
The Very Reverend Thomas R Moore said the very psyche of the farmers had been challenged.
“What we are witnessing today is loneliness, depression and sadly a growing number of suicidal or near suicidal cases emerging. Fear stalks the countryside. Fear leads to anger and anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering,” he said.
He said there had been a reduction of family homesteads and a denuding of the countryside as young farmer families were forced off the land.
“There is an overload of bureaucracy and paperwork generated by regulations and legislation. Farmers and their families living in isolated homes, on the land handed down to them from generation past are seeing their heritage being slowly evaporated,” remarked the Reverend Moore.
The Reverend Moore said farmers' wives and young family members were being forced out to look for other employment and work to assist in the budgeting and running costs of maintaining the farm; and on top of that many are now experiencing theft of valuable machinery and livestock, resulting from the fact that no one is around to keep an eye on the homestead of the farm and the lack of adequate policing.
“Farmers are a proud people and do not like to seek financial assistance from social services, although many of them would qualify for this at present. Their employment situation is unique and distinct from other workers and, whereas they themselves would say, that farming techniques and practice will change in the future, it still remains a fact that we need the farming community and they need an ongoing and substantial standard of living and also those involved in the industry,” he said.
And the Reverend Moore said it was vital that the industry continued to grow, thrive and be valued.
“No viable standard of living can be sustained where an industry has experienced a 15 per cent drop in income over the last five to seven years. These people are the backbone of not only our country and communities but also of many of our parishes,” he added.
The Reverend Moore said farming was not just another commodity producing industry.
“It is resources that belong to and are shared by everyone. It is made up of human resources in a chain that has its links within the totality of industries within Northern Ireland. It is not just producing food, but producing it in a way that generations to come can continue to live on the land and have gainful employment in the agricultural industry.
“It is about families, their livelihood and even their very existence as part of the eco community,” he added.
He went on to say that the crisis in farming was not all about the BSE disease: “It is not totally, created on the farms, the crisis was created because the government had not used the Common Agricultural Policy to its full potential, Every country had used the CAP to its farmers’ advantage and those in this province find themselves in a totally uncompetitive position.”
The Reverend Moore said one only had to drive out into the rural areas and communities and see the familiar feature of the fields and countryside changing.
“It is unforgivable, to force changes to the farming fraternity and the agrifood industry through bankruptcy,” he declared.
He added: “I have worked closely with the farming community all my life and have seen the massive changes that have taken place. Small farms give way to larger units at the expense or demise of small family holdings.
“From a mixed economy farm, we evolved into specialised units, from the horse to the tractor, from hand milking to the milking parlour from free range animal and poultry husbandry to intensive units.
“Yet in all this, there was planning and methodology in the changes, not like what is happening today, where literally communities are being forced out of their means of livelihood and closed down.”