Farmers have a high rate of suicide (1% of suicides in England and Wales). This study sought to test whether farmers would be less likely to have been in contact with primary or mental health services before death due to their reluctance to seek help. The study also sought to identify other characteristics that differentiated suicide among male farmers from other professional groups. A retrospective case-control design was used comparing male farmers with an age and sex matched control group. Cases were all members of the farming community within the Exeter Health District on whom suicide or open verdict had been recorded between 1979 and 1994. 63 Cases were identified and entered into the study. Controls were non-farmers with the same verdict who were matched for age (5 year age bands) sex and social class. Farmers were significantly more likely to use firearms to kill themselves (42% of farmers v 11% controls). They were less likely to use a car exhaust or to die by poisoning (9% farmers v 50% controls). Farmers were significantly less likely to leave a suicide note (21% farmers v 41% controls). There was no significant difference between farmers and controls for numbers in contact with their general practitioner or mental health services in the 3 months before death. There may be some differences in help seeking behaviour between farmers and the general population as over 30% of farmers presented with exclusively physical symptoms. General practitioners should consider depressive and suicidal intention in farmers presenting with physical problems. When depression is diagnosed consideration should be given to the temporary removal of firearms as the high rate of suicide in the farming community may be strongly influenced by access to means.