Winners Follow-up: Emma Picton-Jones, 2019 Farmers Guardian Farming Hero

Beyond impossible circumstances, Emma Picton-Jones found a way to make a difference to many farmers suffering in silence. Danusia Osiowy finds out more about how she is inspiring change through the charity launched in memory of her husband.

As a video played out to a room packed full of farmers and industry professionals at last year’s British Farming Awards, so too did the story of a young woman who was at the very heart of it.

Emma Picton-Jones’ heartbreaking but inspirational story culminated the ceremony and, as her name was called out as the recipient of Farmers Guardian’s Farming Hero, every single person was on their feet in an astonishing mark of unity.

It was not just the incredible loss she and her family had suffered, but also the choices she went on to make to inspire positive change in others, which makes her achievements so unforgettable.

On July 5, 2016, Emma’s world was turned upside down just minutes after waking from her sleep.

She says: “Until then, I was an average 28-year-old, married with two children and a full-time job, juggling the stresses of everyday life.

“But that morning I woke up to find my husband Daniel missing. He had suffered with his mental health for a long time, but I still did not expect what had happened.

“Daniel had taken his own life and my world was thrown into a spiral.”

With so many questions unanswered and an uncertain life ahead, Emma was unsure what the future held.

She says: “Daniel was an agricultural contractor and had suffered with mental health issues his entire life and, despite his calm, happy exterior, he was crippled with anxiety and depression inside.

“He never felt there were any  options for him, he felt he couldn’t talk to anyone, as no-one would understand.

“He left a lengthy note, mostly comprised of statements depicting his state of mind. But there was one element of his letter which really stayed with me.

“He wrote ‘you weren’t able to save me, but you can try and save someone else’.


“This sentence swam around in my head and, the day after Daniel’s death, I set up a charity called The DPJ Foundation to support others suffering from mental health problems in Wales.

“I wanted to use his name to make a difference. Agriculture carries one of the highest rates of suicide and the foundation aims to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and provide support services.”

Based in Haverfordwest, initially Emma’s focus was on her local community of Pembrokeshire, which brought with it its own disadvantages for those suffering
with mental health problems.

She says: “It is a community where everyone knows everyone and admitting supposed frailties is not an option.”

But she started from scratch and, through donations and fundraising events, went on to establish the ‘Share the load’ initiative, a 24/7 telephone and counselling service for people with mental health problems in rural communities.

Emma has gone to deliver mental health training to industry professionals including vets, feed representatives and nutritionists to offer them the tools to support farmers they see on a daily basis.

She says: “We hope by taking the support to farmers, rather than waiting for people to seek it themselves, we can provide help for those in need.”

Her vision for the foundation has since exceeded expectation and she has galvanised agricultural communities and inspired those struggling to seek help to address poor mental health.

As the only full-time member of staff, Emma’s life has been inevitably devoted to the foundation since its launch.

“We hope by taking the support to farmers, rather than waiting for people to seek it themselves, we can provide help for those in need”

Through her strong network  of supporters and volunteers and talking to many hundreds of farmers, she has also managed to learn valuable lessons along the way.

She says: “The first thing I learned is to take better care of my own mental health, not to take too much on and to make sure I take the time to practise what I preach.

“I have also learned that sometimes it is better to do one or two things really well than try and do too much and spread yourself thinly.

“I think it has been great to perfect what we do and be known widely for doing it well when we could have easily taken on so much and risked running ourselves to the ground.”

Despite the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, the foundation has continued to run full-time and has adapted to a new way of working. Training is being delivered
effectively online, as is the counselling service with the most serious cases being seen face to face complying with social distancing.

Emma says: “We have also been extremely lucky to have been so well supported during this time through online fundraisers, which has meant we have not had to stop anything too.

“The benefit of having more than 50 volunteers and only one employee means we can continue to run fully as our outgoings are relatively small.”

When asked if she had witnessed any patterns emerging since the onset of the pandemic, it seems isolation is proving a struggle for some.

Emma says: “We have noticed young farmers in particular are struggling with the isolation aspect. Many farmers are concerned about the financial impact going forward.

“Especially here in West Wales, numerous farmers went through a period of no milk collection and the impact of that is severe.

“My advice to anyone struggling and, if things are getting too much, tell someone about it.

“Also take time to do something which is not farming even just for an hour. It is too easy to get bogged down when you are home 24/7 and cannot even go to market, so taking time to do something other than farming is hugely important.”


As she looks to the future, Emma is optimistic the DPJ Foundation will continue to expand and is currently recruiting a new charity manager as she looks to return to teaching role in September.

She says: “I am really excited to see where the new manager will take the foundation. It has gone way beyond what I ever expected and way beyond my expertise, so it will be great to have someone with that knowledge and understanding of charity work.”

Winning Farmers Guardian’s Farming Hero Award has secured new funding opportunities along with new volunteers and provided an overall awareness of the
charity’s work.

It is clear the awards evening remains a poignant moment in her journey as she recalls her feelings.

“It still feels overwhelming,” she says. “Out of everything that has happened and the opportunities which have come my way over the last three years, that night is the most memorable night. After the video, I vividly remember looking to my dad, who was in tears. He then stood and I looked around to see the entire room
on their feet with tears in their eyes.

“There was not one person in that  room who has not known of someone who killed themselves and that is an awful group to be part of, but that common understanding is something which brought everyone together.

“I will be forever grateful for that evening. Not only the award which sits proudly on my shelf, but also for the opportunity to use Daniel’s name positively and use his tragic circumstances to make people aware of the issues we face as a sector. “If that story made a difference to just one person’s life, then as far as I am concerned, we’ve done our job.”