Mental health charity Rural Support said it had recorded a three-fold increase in calls through the Covid-19 pandemic as Northern Ireland farmers face financial pressures, isolation and loneliness.

A survey by the charity also highlighted mental and physical health as other key concerns.

Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots praised the work undertaken by the group after he met with volunteers.

At the meeting, Minister Poots was presented with the findings of the survey into farming pressures, which saw almost 500 farm business owners and farm workers take part.

The results will help new initiatives to directly address these issues and provide practical support to the farming community on the ground.

Minister Poots said:

I am very supportive of the work that Rural Support has undertaken over the years supporting farmers, farm families and indeed the wider rural communities, particularly in times of need.

"Rural Support bring a wide range of skills to support people in rural areas from providing business advice, mentoring, mental health support, and help with general farming issues, and have worked tirelessly to help those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I am also very pleased that Rural Support will be taking forward a number of new initiatives to help with the Covid-19 recovery including the ‘The Business of Farming’ project – a programme of meetings, workshops and one to one support.

This will be launched in October across Northern Ireland and it will help farmers and their families post-Covid-19 and also looking beyond that to Brexit in terms of challenges and opportunities.

"I wish to take this opportunity to give my sincerest thanks to everyone at Rural Support for their hours of dedication during the pandemic to help our rural communities to get through it.

"I would also like to wish Veronica Morris the best of luck in her appointment as Rural Support chief executive which took place earlier this year."

Speaking after the event, chairman John Thompson said: "We wish to thank the minister for taking time to meet with Veronica and myself, and learn first-hand of the work that has been carried out over recent months to help support people affected by Covid-19 as well as hearing about the challenges faced by our farmers and their families as we move through the pandemic.

"During the first three months of Covid-19, Rural Support saw a three-fold increase in calls to its helpline and our staff, mentors and volunteers have been busy supporting those families in very difficult circumstances.

"The minister’s interest and support for our activities is much appreciated and welcomed by all at the organisation."