Get Involved to Help Us Understand.
What is the most important asset on a farm?
If I were to ask any farmer this question, I wonder what answers I would get?
I wonder how many would agree with me. How many farmers would automatically say what, I think, is really the most important asset…people.
While our stock, land, machinery, and buildings are vital components of farming, it's crucial to recognize that the most precious asset in farming is its people. Defra estimates that over 472,000 people work in the agricultural industry in the UK. This includes farmers, their families, and farm workers. There are also employees in allied industries, such as research, sales, and animal welfare. Ensuring the health and well-being of every single one of these people is crucial to safeguarding our fantastic farming communities. When our people thrive, our farms flourish.
We know how much we are impacted by stressors, often created by forces outside of our control. The weather, red tape, animal diseases, inspections, our lack of say in both costs to us and the price we receive for the products of our hard work, to name but a few causes. We also recognise how difficult it is when our efforts aren’t appreciated, and it feels like the public and press don’t value our industry. All these factors, and many more, can cause us to feel the effects of stress.
Stress is a word we often hear and a feeling we may frequently experience. It is the body's natural response to challenges, be they physical, emotional, or psychological. When we encounter a threat or a demand, our body releases hormones. These include adrenaline and cortisol, triggering the "fight or flight" response. This ancient survival mechanism prepares us to confront a challenge we see or escape from it. It is how our ancestors felt when they bumped into a stray lion or tiger! This acute type of stress can be the butterflies we experience before doing something challenging. Or the tension during a sudden, unexpected situation. This kind of temporary stress is a natural and necessary function. It can be positive in helping us to maintain focus and stay alert.
The problem is that, in our modern lives, stressors are often not fleeting threats, like a wild animal – although I’m certain that any livestock farmer would be able to find countless examples of the stock causing stress! Stress today comes in the form of financial pressures, relationship issues, heavy workload, and the farming related causes I mentioned above. When these stressors become overwhelming, our body's stress response can persist, wreaking havoc on our health. This prolonged state of tension can lead to a range of physical and mental health issues. Stress can present itself differently in each person, but common signs include:
Insomnia or other sleep difficulties
Changes in eating habits and appetite
Increased use of alcohol or tobacco
In my previous blogs, I’ve explored some of these stressors and discussed how communicating with others, as well as building resilience, could help us cope with them. Another way we might be able to help is by improving our understanding.
Understanding stress is the first step toward effective management. As part of my PhD, we are trying to better understand the causes of stress and how we can particularly build resilience in farmers – despite the challenges we face. This research seeks to delve deeper into the causes of stress and, importantly, unravel how we can fortify the resilience of farmers. We're not only interested in the 'what' – our goal is to understand the 'how ' and ‘why’. We believe that if we understand this better, then the help that is offered can be improved.
As part of this research, we need you. Sharing your experiences with us is essential for us to gain a comprehensive understanding. We understand how busy you all are, and the thought of completing yet another survey might not be the way you want to spend your evening, but it is only by gathering this much-needed information that we can help those in need.
We’d love you to be able to get involved. We have a survey running until early January 2024, and it is available here. This one only takes five minutes to complete and is asking you specifically about what causes you to feel stress.
We will have further surveys running regularly, and we would love it if you can help us by also completing these. Any research will be posted on my website if you’d like to be involved. By participating, you're not merely filling out a form; you're contributing to a collective understanding that could redefine the way we approach stress in agriculture.
Your participation in our surveys isn't just a contribution to data; it's a gesture of solidarity. By sharing your experiences, you're not just helping us understand stress; you're fortifying the very essence of our farming legacy – our people.