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The Side of Farming People Forget...

about 2 months ago by Hannah Cuthbert

​The suicide rate for male farm workers is three times the male national average. A shocking statistic that shows the scale of the mental health issues that UK agriculture is facing. Most of us at this time of year think of lambs jumping in the field, farmers in tractors in the field and farmers driving around in the latest Range Rover.

Farming really can be the most rewarding job in the world and the above is sometimes true, the joy when you finish harvest or see your newborn lambs in a field is unmatched but there is a side to farming which the public dosen't always see. Harvest 2023 was a wet, difficult harvest and recent flooding means arable farmers are struggling to keep crops in the ground, that’s if they’ve even managed to afford the increase in seed prices in recent months. Meanwhile, livestock farmers are faced with their livestock being susceptible to diseases. As a result, mental health has never been lower in the industry.

Olly Harrison farms near Liverpool, “Any farmers I’ve spoken to say this has been the worst year ever, it’s rained for the last 8 months. I’m watching my crops get destroyed, and the price of what I have stored from harvest last year is dropping and dropping. The price of wheat is the lowest it’s been in years”.

Becca Wilson is a 28-year-old farmer from North Yorkshire. She shared on her Instagram stories that like many farmers across the country, her ewes had contracted schmalenberg, a disease spread by mites and incurable which led to newborn lambs being still-born or born deformed and weak.

“Whilst there’s nothing we could have done to prevent it, the emotional impact has been massive” says Becca. She highlights that alongside the emotional impact, there is also a big financial impact, especially if she can’t sell the lamb later down the line.

“I was dreading going into the lambing shed in case there was another case”.

Both the cases above are not uncommon to hear. But on top of this, unfair prices from supermarkets, uncertainty from the Government, added environmental pressures and the everyday running of the farm can easily get on top of farmers. But what steps are being taken to support farmers in this turbulent time?

Research found that between 2019 and 2020 133 people in UK farming and associated agricultural trades took their own life, with mental wellbeing among the industry steadily deteriorating over recent years.

Undoubtedly there are still avenues of support and awareness that need to be taken to encourage discussion around mental health, the same way that a broken leg is treated. But progress is being made to encourage these discussions including:

Awareness and fundraising

In the summer of 2023, Olly Harrison, John Branson, James Baldini and Martin Williams drove a combine harvester from John O’Groats to Lands End raising over £91,000 for mental health charities, spreading awareness around the country all in memory of friends they had lost to suicide.

Olly runs a YouTube channel with daily vlogs about the goings on at the farm, within this he encourages viewers to ‘answer as a per cent’ to rank how they’re feeling that day. The comment section is flooded day in and day out with viewers answering with their percentages and often sharing any issues or positives they are experiencing.

Lynda and Andy Eadon are also huge advocates of mental health support in farming. They are the parents of a young farmer, Len Eadon, who sadly took his life in 2022. Lynda and Andy launched Len’s Light soon after, an initiative to spread mental health awareness through a variety of ways:

Their tractor run travelled across the country stopping at livestock markets and even the Houses of Parliament to encourage conversation, spread awareness and raise money for charity. Other events include the ‘Big Farming Tea Break’ which ran last week to initiate conversations among peers whilst hosting their own events, including at Westminster. Len’s father also created a ‘five a day’ checklist to ensure people are aware of how they are feeling as well as others around them. Over 18,000 cards have been distributed to farmers through livestock markets, young farmers and magazine

subscriptions. They also launched the ‘Tough as Old Boots’ campaign to serve as a reminder of the importance of looking after yourself and others. So far they have raised over £175,000

Organisations

Recognition of low levels of well-being in the sector has been widely acknowledged. Charities such as Yellow Wellies, RABI, the Farming Community Network (FCN) and You Are Not Alone (YANA) all have the same objective to raise awareness. Yellow Wellies’ ‘Mind Your Head’ campaign ran last week which is a week dedicated to promoting mental wellbeing statistics and support if you are struggling. FCN offer a confidential helpline to provide emotional and business support to farmers either in-person or online.

As well as national charities, regional charities such as Lincolnshire Rural Support Network (LRSN), Herefordshire’s We are Farming Minds and Farmerados in the Southwest all provide county-specific support to farmers.

Contact numbers:

RABI: 0800 188 4444

YANA: 0300 323 0400/ helpline@yanahelp.org

FCN: 03000 111 999/ help@fcn.org.uk

Mental health can affect anyone. Prioritise your wellbeing, talk to those around you and #MindYourHead.