The Farm’s Greatest Asset…

Friday’s guest blog comes from Dr. Jude McCann, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland charity, ‘Rural Support’ and Nuffield 2017 Scholar. Jude outlines below how Rural Support assists and guides the agricultural community in Northern Ireland through challenging times and how he hopes his ongoing Nuffield research will help to highlight and address the issue of mental health problems in the industry, as well as providing insight into how emotional and social resilience can be strengthened. 

“If you were to ask a farmer what the most important asset on his or her farm is they may say it’s the land, the soil, the livestock or the machinery. Very few would say ‘it’s me – the farmer’. A rural GP once told me that the farmer is the most important asset on the farm and he was absolutely right in his assertion.

The farming community is unfortunately susceptible to poor mental health and wellbeing. Working long and unsociable hours can make it difficult to access traditional health care services. The farming lifestyle of working long hours means that any opportunity for leisure time and socialising with others is greatly reduced. Farmers very often work alone and with added pressures such as increasing levels of debt, increasing paperwork and animal disease. Being dependent on factors outside of their control such as the weather and markets can often lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety.

Rural Support offers a listening, signposting and outreach service for farmers and farming families across Northern Ireland through its helpline. Trained volunteers and Farm Business mentors can assist and provide information on many different issues that can cause pressure within the farming community. Our helpline operates between 9am-9pm Monday-Friday (Voicemail support options available at all other times). Rural Support has a team of six staff members, thirty-three volunteers and ten financial mentors who give their time, knowledge and expertise to help farmers and farming families who require support in these challenging times.

There have been many challenges in recent months that have affected the agricultural community here including: the severe flooding which hit the North-West of the province in August 2017, the ongoing TB crisis with almost 10% of farms being closed; ongoing finance/debt issues, family, inheritance and succession issues, prolonged wet weather, uncertain markets and the threat of future Brexit implications are all adding to stress and strain on mental health.

I would like to remind farmers and farming families that they are not alone and to seek help from Rural Support before a problem becomes a crisis.

Farmer and Farm Family resilience is at the centre of our organisation and I am delighted to have been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship for 2017. My project aims to identify ways of increasing emotional/social resilience so farmers and farming families can protect themselves and their farm business through challenging times. I will do this through the identification of current issues that are impacting family farm businesses, as well as pressures relating to farmers’ health and wellbeing, examining government and non-government support structures for farmers in countries with differing levels of subsidies, investigating how farm support organisations have successfully increased farm resilience and supported farm businesses and identify models of best practice and implement key learning to the United Kingdom. I would like to sincerely thank Nuffield Scholarships and The Thomas Henry Foundation for allowing me to undertake this study.”

To speak to someone in confidence contact the Rural Support helpline on 0845 606 7 607.

The helpline is available from 9am to 9pm Monday – Friday (voicemail and support options available at all other times). For more information on the work of Rural Support visit or call the office on: 028 8676 0040.

stephanie_berkeley_zl4u2oa9The Farm’s Greatest Asset…

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