The Church of Scotland is appointing its first dedicated farming minister to help stressed out farmers during a time of economic crisis in the industry.
The new “pioneer minister”, to be based at the Craig Wilson livestock mart in Ayr, will be expected to have a good background knowledge of rural affairs and will have a wide remit including visiting farmers and their families, championing the industry and workers’ rights as well as encouraging people to buy locally produced food.
The postholder will also work with young farmer groups and NFU representatives, visit the weekly livestock mart, annual agriculture shows and draw together groups of people linked to the industry such as vets, mart staff and estate workers.
The National Farmers Union Scotland and farming charity the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution welcomed the move saying the perilous state of the sector is taking a “serious” toll on the health and wellbeing of many people who too often “suffer in silence”.
The Moderator of the General Assembly the Rev Dr Angus Morrison who unveiled details of the new post this morning during a visit to Ayr mart, said: “I am delighted to announce the creation of this new ground breaking post to reach out to people in the farming community in Ayrshire.
“It is hoped that through this new position the Church can meet farmers where they are and build relationships that will allow an understanding of the issues and stresses related to modern day farming.
“The Church cares deeply about people in all our communities and I am confident that whoever fills this important role will make a substantial difference to the lives of many people.”
The five-year pilot post, which is being advertised shortly, could be rolled out across other parts of rural Scotland if it proves successful.
The Rev John Paterson, minister at Lugar, linked with Old Cumnock Church, alongside elder Isabell Montgomerie, a former Presbytery moderator, who have been at the forefront promoting the new role, said: “Modern day farming is stressful and issues faced by farmers include the struggle with fair trading, market values, livestock and financial hardship due to the collapse of milk prices.”
Christine Cuthbertson, Ayrshire regional manager, NFU Scotland, said: “I cannot recall a time where farmers in Ayrshire have had to face such a storm of ill winds battering against them.
“Exceptionally poor commodity prices across all sectors, especially for many of our dairy producers, and the delay in European farm support payments from the Scottish Government, are taking a serious toll on farmer’s health, businesses and family life.”