Discussion group using the ‘power of the phone’ to look out for each other

Pick up the phone and talk to someone. Members of a tillage discussion group in north Kildare are looking out for one another as they get through current restrictions and face a drought on their farms.

Ivan Whitten, a Teagasc advisor in counties Kildare and Laois, spoke to AgriLand about T-POP (Power of the Phone).

He encouraged people to talk to each other and while he has been ringing three to five of his clients every day he has also given everyone in the North Kildare Tillage Growers’ Group a name of someone in the group to ring in recent weeks.

What I’ve been doing within the discussion groups is to get them to ring each other as well.

“They can talk to each other about different things rather than having the same guys talking the same lingo each time. They can find out something about each other.”

He hopes that this will encourage members of the group to reach out to more people. He noted that other advisors are also taking the initiative on board.

Aside from restrictions and social distancing, he stated that the current drought is causing stress.

The drought we’re experiencing now is worse than 2018, because it started four to five weeks earlier.

He referred to crops with low yield potential, lack of grass growth and farmers eating into their fodder reserves are some of the worries that are out there.

There’s very little social contact at all. Rural society is suffering an awful, awful lot at the moment.

“You could say farmers are used to working in isolation, but this is a totally different isolation because you’re trying to fight a virus that you can’t see.

“At this stage with the easing of the lockdown, I suppose there’s no reason why people can’t meet and maintain their social distance.”

The image below shows some of the events that were organised to bring farmers together.

Ivan added that communities have been very good to people, but there are plenty of farmers out there missing social contact with friends and family. He said if one person out of 20 were suffering mentally or financially then the phone calls may help.

“Even without the virus, with the circumstances that are there with this drought, a lot of people are suffering.

“They have worked very hard and they’re barely going to pay their bills. That’s disillusioning at the minute as well,” he added.

Discussion groups are interactive

Speaking to AgriLand, one member of the group explained that there are many factors affecting farmers at present and the current situation has added to the strain for farmers of all ages.

Cuts to basic payments, further restrictions on pesticide and fertiliser use, as well as a drought, were just some of the topics mentioned.

“A discussion group is meant to be interactive and because we haven’t had meetings it was important to have some form of interaction, whether by phone or Zoom.”

The member explained that while this gave people a chance to open up a little bit they were still missing out on human contact and need that interaction for their personal well-being.

Ivan teamed people up to call each other and mixed up the group so that people spoke to someone that they might not talk to regularly in the group or maybe teamed up older and younger farmers so that they could learn from each others situations.

“He [Ivan] was trying to get people to open up, interact a little bit and relieve any tensions that some people would have and encourage personal well-being.

“If we can improve our mental health and our personal well-being in this fashion it won’t go astray.”

The group also has a WhatsApp group and this is useful for sharing a photo of a crop and taking opinions or asking for advice, but it can also be good for sharing a few jokes, the member added.

The main message to be learned from the group is to pick up the phone and talk to each other.