‘Essential and vulnerable’ – farmers ‘do not have the luxury of isolation’

Due to being classified as ‘essential workers’, farmers “do not have the luxury of isolation” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is despite them being “highly vulnerable to adverse outcomes of Covid-19 infection”, according to a report by Teagasc and the National Centre for Men’s Health at the Institute of Technology Carlow.

The report, ‘Essential and Vulnerable: Implications of Covid-19 for Farmers in Ireland’, finds that farmers, due to being essential workers, place themselves and their families at “greater risk of exposure to the virus”.

The report adds that “some farm households, particularly those living alone or families with young children, are also susceptible to adverse impacts on their well-being associated with isolation and severe time constraints”.

While it is “still too soon to assess the longer-term implications of Covid-19 on farmers and farming”, it is “increasingly apparent” that the emerging global economic shock “may suppress farm gate prices and restrict the availability of credit”.

According to the research, this adds to the risks posed by Covid-19 and its longer-term effects to the well-being of farmers.

High levels of stress in farm households

The report focused on men, “in light of the disproportionate mortality rates noted among men” due to the virus. Along with that, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) Farm Structure Survey 2016, 88% of farm holders in Ireland are male.

The report continues:

“Analysis of the 2011 Census of Population data established that 11% of farmers are living alone.

“The concern here is one of increased isolation.

In terms of well-being, a further population of concern are members of farm households attempting to combine work, home-schooling, caring for family members and caring for others in the community.

“Roughly, 30% of all farm households had children under 19 years-of-age in 2011.”

The Teagasc National Farm Survey found that 50% of farm households are “characterised by either the farmer or the spouse working off farm”.

According to this survey, in many instances, spouses are also essential workers.

“In this context, it is to be expected that substantial numbers of farm households with children are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety,” the report states.

“This may be compounded by safety issues associated with having children at home on farms for prolonged periods of time.”

Medical conditions associated with risk of Covid-19

According to a previous Teagasc report ‘Farmers Have Hearts: Cardiovascular Health Programme’, the population of farmers in Ireland display “many risk factors” of Covid-19.

Lung disease; asthma; diabetes; obesity; and smoking history are all medical conditions associated with risk of severe symptoms of Covid-19.

The recent report draws on this information, noting that it is of particular concern that “a high proportion of farmers with elevated cholesterol and/or blood pressure reported not being on prescribed medication to manage the conditions”. This adds to the susceptibility of farmers to the outcomes of Covid-19.