Farming is a stressful occupation – physically, mentally and financially. But there are measures that can be taken to help manage that stress, according to a study by Farm Management Canada. It starts with a plan.
The 2019 study involved nearly 2,000 Canadian farmers, who participated in written surveys, focus groups, and personal interviews. Of those respondents, 62% were categorized with mid-stress scores, and 14% were shown to be under high stress. The sub-sets of farmers experiencing the most stress were women, younger farmers, and those with growing (versus established) operations.
Other interesting findings from the study include:
- Respondents indicated the major contributors to stress were unpredictable interference with their businesses; workload pressures and lack of time; and financial pressures.
- Most farmers cited responses to stress that may contribute to poor mental health, including working longer hours and losing sleep; attending fewer social and family gatherings; and feeling less in control of their emotions.
- 21% of respondents regularly follow a written business plan. Most of them (88%) said the practice contributes to peace of mind; more effective coping mechanisms; and adopting other beneficial business practices.
- However, about half of all respondents (48%) said they never or rarely follow a business plan.
Farm Management Canada proposes that farmers could enhance their mental health by developing basic business plans that focus on cash-flow projections; scenario and contingency planning; and risk management. Support teams that may include lenders, peers and family members can provide advice from different perspectives and alleviate the burden of decision making from resting on the shoulders of a single individual. It also is valuable to have such an established team in place when challenges arise. The more familiarity they have with the business, the more they can help navigate challenging circumstances.
The study’s executive summary listed lack of access to mental health services in rural areas as a critical gap in supporting farmers’ mental health. It also noted that farmers are more likely to participate in support programs if those service providers are familiar with agriculture, and can cater to the unique needs of farmers.
“Our research has found that farm business management practices offer a significant opportunity for manages the stresses of farming in a way that contributes to positive mental health,” said Heather Watson, Executive Director of Farm Management Canada. “While management practices cannot eliminate stress entirely, they can play a significant role in reducing stress and promoting positive coping mechanisms.”