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Northumberland Today

Cash delays push farmers to brink

CASH-STRAPPED farmers in north Northumberland could be driven to commit suicide because of delays to vital subsidies.
Farmers were expecting to receive a share of the 1.6million Single Payment Scheme (SPS) by the end of March but three-quarters of those in England have not yet been paid.
Stoker Frater, council delegate for Northumberland National Farmers Union (NFU), of Abberwick, near Alnwick, said: "Farmers can't pay their bills and the stress factor of it is worse because it is right on lambing and spring calving time.
"People are concerned about the money but what worries us is that it is going to end up with a fatality people could kill themselves over it."
The new SPS, which accounts for about 40 per cent of farmers' income, bases payments on the area or land farmers manage, not on what is produced.
Scheme deliverers The Rural Payments Agency (RPA), an executive agency of Defra, had promised that the money would be paid by March 31.
The agency's chief executive was replaced last month after the pledge was not met and the new head has streamlined the process.It now says payments will arrive by the end of June.
But by contrast, 98 per cent of farmers in Europe, including those in Scotland, received their money before Christmas.
Mr Frater said: "Why are we having to wait?"
Northumberland NFU has called for the Agriculture Minister Lord Bach and the Secretary of State Margaret Beckett to step down over the payments fiasco.
Farm Crisis Network (FCN), a charity which supports farmers and their families through difficult times, saw its call numbers rise by nearly 40 per cent last year and expects them to rise further.
North East co-ordinator Hugh Logan, of Fenton Hill Farm, near Wooler, said: "It is possible this could lead to an increase in suicides among farmers. It is putting enormous pressure on family relationships and leading to mental health problems."
Mr Logan said there had been five suicides within the region's farming community in the last two years.
A Defra spokesman said: "We accept it is a difficult time for many farmers with payments not being made but we can assure that staff are working flat out to get these payments made as quickly as possible.
"We hope that no farmer is driven to suicide because of this and we thank farmers for their continued patience."
Defra run the advice line Rural Stress Information Network. Contact 02476 412916, lines are open 9am to 5pm. FCN's help line is 07002 326 326 and is open 7am to 11pm every day.
06 April 2006