Written by: Tracy Myers, Eastern Valley Regional Communication Coordinator
Anyone who knows a farmer understands that working in agriculture is a very stressful and, at times, unforgiving vocation. Needless to say, though, this is an industry that is very resilient, even in the worst times possible. The Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be one of these extraordinary times.
Under normal circumstances farmers have had to contend with many variables, ranging from unpredictable cropping seasons, to outbreaks of diseases as well as intercontinental trade barriers. However, Covid-19 has presented its own challenges. Many farmers have been forced to euthanize healthy animals, dump milk or give away produce, while at the same time trying to operate and maintain a viable farming operation.
Although agricultural operators have been steadfast in their goals of providing safe and healthy products we have to keep in mind that there are potential mental health risks associated with trying to maintain a farming business during Covid-19.
Mental health is defined as “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.” (mentalhealth.gov).
Patti Durand (Transition Specialist at Farm Credit Canada), indicates that communication is at the forefront of dealing with stressful situations on the farm. Regular communication between family members can help to alleviate some of the stress associated with variables such as finances, livestock production and conflict. Many farmers have found themselves in situations where they have not practiced adequate communication techniques, which have resulted in familial conflict. Don’t forget, we cannot do it on our own.
During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been an increase in mental health-related illnesses such as depression, anxiety, stress and a higher rate of burnout.
In general, the pandemic has reduced a farm’s productive capacity by at least 20 percent. Not only does this add extra financial pressure but there is now a concern about staying physically healthy. At the same time, operators have had to lay off employees, taking on the additional burden that these individual roles played. The mental health of farmers across every commodity has always been a concern; Covid-19 has now brought this concern to the forefront.
To help farmers cope with some of their fears, Lesley Kelly and Megz Reynolds, two Saskatchewan farmers, opened up a non-profit charity call ‘Do More Ag’ where farmers can converse about fears that have once been considered silent. They incorporate public service announcements, videos, webinars and online chats. Farmers are able, through this venue, to share their stories and are provided with advice on coping strategies.
It is important to understand that farming is not just a job. It is a way of life. If we are to sustain the industry and involve the next generation of farmers, we need to address issues of mental health and provide resources and solutions to the challenges that come with unexpected situations such as Covid-19.
George Washington once said “Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man”. Our focus should be to maintain and encourage generations of farmers to be the best that they can be, and to maintain a resilient and prosperous industry! And always remember….you are not alone in this.