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For too long, farmers have struggled alone with mental health challenges. Today, the topic is more widely discussed and help is more readily available.

From dealing with volatile markets and unpredictable weather, to financial worries and family challenges, farming has always been a stressful occupation. For decades, farmers have suffered in silence, for three main reasons:

  1. Many simply accepted that high stress came with the job & felt there was little that could be done.
  2. Farmers who spoke out or sought help, feared being ostracized by their community.
  3. There was little information available in terms of farm-specific mental health resources & support.

Today, to the benefit of farmers & producers everywhere, all three concerns have improved greatly. More farmers refuse to accept that debilitating stress just comes with the territory. The stigma regarding mental health issues is showing signs of easing. Ag-specific mental health resources & treatment are also becoming increasingly more available.

In 2020, Farm Management Canada released a landmark research study called Healthy Minds, Healthy Farms. Results showed that the majority of Canadian farmers incurred significant levels of stress. Beyond the personal impact on the farmers themselves, mental health was shown to be a serious risk for the prosperity and future of the agriculture industry.

“Our study found 75% of Canada’s farmers reported being moderately to highly stressed,” says Heather Watson, Executive Director of Farm Management Canada. “Prolonged stress is proven to affect our capacity to think clearly and make timely, informed decisions and to prioritize effectively. It also affects our emotional stability. All these factors negatively affect our ability to run a farm business smoothly.”

As identified by farmers in the study, the top three stressors are the unpredictability of the agricultural sector, workload pressures and financial pressures. These three won’t be disappearing any time soon. However, Watson believes Canadian farmers have the power to improve their mental health and resiliency. Here are 3 ideas:

1. Have a Farm Business Plan:

A business plan impacts both business success and the farmer’s mental health. In fact, in the Healthy Minds, Healthy Farms study, 88% of farmers who followed a written business plan say it has contributed to improved peace of mind. It’s easy to see why. For farmers, much of their stress comes from factors beyond their control. A business plan allows them to bring best practices to the factors they can control. It helps.

“These farmers are also more likely to adopt effective coping mechanisms such as crunching the numbers and creating contingency plans to remain resilient when times get tough, when decision-making becomes clouded,” says Watson. “They’re also more likely to reach out for support.”

2. Make Mental Health Part of Your Business:

It’s important to note that stress isn’t just felt by the farm’s owners. There is a trickle-down effect & employees are also affected. This makes mental health and personal resilience important themes for a farm’s business plan and daily work routine.

“I’ve heard of some farms mandating personal wellness days for their employees,” says Watson, “while others provide and support mental health training and counselling as part of their benefits program. It’s important to create a company culture that recognizes and supports positive mental health.”

3. Seek out community:

Something as simple as a phone call or text to a friend or fellow farmer can have a big impact. Organizations like Do More Ag host regular online sessions where farmers can talk, share or just listen in. Producer associations are making mental health awareness part of their mandate.

“Not so long ago, you would be hard-pressed to find mental health on meeting agendas and agricultural conference programs,” says Watson. “It’s now the norm. More farmers are speaking out through these events and social media, helping reduce the stigma by speaking openly about their mental health, encouraging and inspiring fellow farmers. We’re headed in the right direction and that’s encouraging.”

Help take your agri-business to the next level. Check out the new University of Guelph Foundations in Agricultural Management course, created in collaboration with RBC & Farm Credit Canada. Invest in your Business. Invest in Yourself.