Teagasc needs to rethink its promotion of benchmark targets for farms – and individual targets need to take account of regional differences, age and needs of farmers, according to one Nuffield scholar.

Joe Leonard told the Nuffield conference that targets that are unattainable can have a negative effect on farmer morale.

“The benchmarks for your own farm must be ones you can achieve and are comfortable with. The figures that Teagasc or others put put, but it may just not be viable on your farm. We need to be very careful about how we put these benchmarks out.”

He said that stress and anxiety are linked to farm accidents, with farmers almost twice as likely to have an accident on the farm if they are stressed according to research from the UK.

However, Leonard also said that 72% of farmers would not want others to know if they had a mental health problem, while 39% of farmers would hide a diagnosis from family and friends and 33% would delay seeking help in case of someone finding out about it.

“We need to address the stigma by how we profile successful people and businesses.

When we hold a farmer up – we need to see the entire story. It’s very easy see the success and the 500 cows, but if you highlight the ups and downs people will see more.”

He also warned that farming is a profession that people must want to do. “If you’re not doing it for your own reasons, but for someone else, it is very had to build that dedication. You have to be in farming for your own reasons.

“But if you’re there because you didn’t’ want to see the farm sold, or someone said you’d be a good farmer, then you’re going to struggle.

“You also need to build support structure around yoruself. If you don’t develop the support when you are building the business it won’t be there when you need it.”

He also called for a farmer-led support network to be set up. The setting up of a single, central farmer help line to deal with the concerns and worries of all aspects of a farmer’s life by connecting him to all relevant bodies, is a must, he said.

“Getting the farmer to make the first call is the challenge.”

He advised that anyone who knows someone suffering from stress or mental health issues who can’t speak to the person, should try talk to their family.

He also said that the language used can be important and it can make a difference to ask if someone is stressed, as opposed to asking if they are suffering from mental health issues.

“Sometimes it can be the language that they are scared of – mental health issues – so you can approach it asking them if they are over worked or under pressure.”

This, he said, can help remove the stigma around asking for help.