Finance and isolation ‘major influences’ of stress on young farmers in northwest

Finance, isolation and weather have been identified as major influences of stress on young farmers in the northwest region, new research has found.

The study, ‘Mental well-being of young farmers in the northwest of Ireland’, was presented by Fergal Bradley at the Knowledge Transfer Conference 2019 – the sixth annual conference that showcases learning from the UCD / Teagasc Masters in Innovation and Masters in Agricultural Extension and Innovation programmes.

At the event almost 30 presentations were delivered under several motifs:
  • Agriculture education – a lifelong process;
  • Dairy farmers and the uptake of technology;
  • The AKIS and broader issues of rural development;
  • Tackling issues of labour on dairy farms;
  • Grass – helping farmers to manage it better;
  • Helping farmers on environmental management;
  • And new challenges and opportunities for advisors.

Bradley’s study set out to achieve a number of objectives: to assess levels of mental well-being among young farmers; to assess levels of support services available to young farmers; and to provide farmer recommendations for advisory services on what needs to be done to address the issue.

The methodology of his research included a series of questionnaires on almost 70 young farmers (aged 18-40 years) and a number of in-depth interviews with advisors and representatives from: Teagasc; Macra na Feirme; Mental Health Ireland; the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA); Aurivo Co-operative; and a previous winner of the FBD Young Farmer of the Year competition.

According to the results of the study – which was supervised by UCD’s Dr. Tomás Russell – the key factors that influence young farmer well-being are: finance (28%); isolation (17%); the unpredictable nature of work hours in farming; and significant pressure over workloads.

Attendees at UCD/Teagasc Knowledge Transfer Conference 2019 at Teagasc Ashtown in Co. Dublin

Reflecting on the participant responses, Bradley said that when farmers spoke about mental well-being, they often associated the term with words like “failure” or “weakness”.

During his presentation – which was chaired by Thomas Duffy, the president of Macra na Feirme – Bradley said: “There is reduced knowledge and understanding with mental health and mental well-being among farmers.

Farmers talk to people they trust.

“Extension workers and advisors are in a unique position to understand the mental well-being of farmers, as they are out on farms. Farmers talk to them about their basic payments, for example.

“Extension work is actually critical to the well-being of young farmers,” he said.

Bradley’s research arrived at a number of recommendations to increase levels of understanding between support services and young farmers on this issue.

Presenters Eva Hayes, Louise Pierce, Daniel McPartin and Danny Fanning during the ‘Grass – helping farmers to manage it better’ session chaired by UCD’s Dr. Bridget Lynch

“Common causes of stress – such as: irritability and anger; loss of appetite; poor sleep; fatigue; chest pain; acne; back pain; headaches; lack of energy; digestive problems; and lack of motivation – need to be identified and symptoms reduced.

“Socialising can help get young farmers away from the stress of the farm,” he said.

Macra na Feirme

The role of Macra was highlighted in participant responses as an avenue to relieve on-farm stress for young farmers.

Lorraine Delahunty presents her study ‘An investigation into the selection and approval of practical learning hosts in agricultural education’

“It was stated that Macra na Feirme gives a great relief from everyday routine; and a great opportunity to network with other rural youths,” he said.

Bradley concluding with the following takeaway messages:
  • Finance, isolation and weather are major influences of stress on farms;
  • Stress influences mental well-being;
  • Knowledge is power;
  • Level of mental well-being differs among farmers.

A number of other research papers that focused on agricultural knowledge and innovation systems (AKIS) and broader issues of rural development were also presented during the session.

UCD Prof. Jim Kinsella pictured opening the conference yesterday, Friday, October 18

It included the following: ‘Facilitating and enabling drystock farmers to engage in short value chains in Co. Kerry’ by Aoife Ford; ‘Examination of the effectiveness of a health and safety course in Co. Tipperary’ by Áine Butler; and ‘Farm succession through collaborative farming arrangement and the issues with the Irish land mobility model’ by Kevin Brennan.

The conference – which operated under this year’s umbrella theme of ‘Diverse Approaches to Supporting Farm Innovation’ – was spearheaded by UCD’s Dr. Monica Gorman, Prof. Jim Kinsella and Dr. Tomás Russell.