In this article, That’s Farming speaks to Dr Aine Macken-Walsh, senior research officer at Teagasc’s Rural Economy and Development Programme (REDP). We discuss what challenges farmers face and how to adapt and overcome these by becoming a resilient farmer.
TF: In your own words, what is resilience?
The ability to respond to a threat or adversity, by accessing and using resources.
These resources can be financial, but there are many other important resources for resilience, such as:
- Resources accessed through collaboration with new people or agencies;
- Greater involvement of women and youth on farms bringing new ideas and adding longevity to the farm business;
- New innovations & farm practices, boosting profitability/biodiversity/responding to challenges such as climate change;
- Social supports from family and neighbours for social and personal well-being.
What are the benefits of being a resilient farmer?
Resilience enables farmers to ensure the survival of their farm as an economic and social unit. The survival of farmers enables wider society to be more resilient, food security, healthy planet etc.
How can a farmer develop their resilience?
By ensuring integration to (ability to access) the range of social and development resources and supports available.
Personal resilience is a crucial foundation, ensuring a farmer’s well-being and good mental and physical health – accessing necessary supports where necessary.
For family farms, good cooperative and mutually rewarding relationships between family members involve in the farm are vital, as are cooperative relationships within the local community, sometimes formally through, e.g. farm partnerships and discussion groups.
Where the farm’s resilience is concerned, involvement in agencies such as Teagasc and development associations is crucial for accessing innovation supports and resources to assist farms in responding to new challenges.
How does resilience not only impact the farmer but also their enterprise?
In order for the farmer and farm to be resilient, both often need to be resilient – the farm often cannot be resilient if the farm/family is not.
New resources can be employed to ensure the resilience of both the farmer and the farm.
Or, to achieve personal resilience, circumstances on the farm may be such that a farmer and his/her family may decide to employ a manager where feasible or to exit from farming.
How can farmers avoid isolation?
By diversifying the range of supports, they are integrated to have access to.
These may be social supports from family or neighbours, community-based supports, etc.
However, it can be difficult for farmers to take the step to access the supports that are available – taking that step is part of the definition of resilience.
In your opinion, can keeping active, aside from farming, benefit a farmer’s mindset?
‘Keeping active’ can be a contested topic, where farmers are concerned, in the sense that they are often working long hours.
Time management is a very important task to avoid ‘burnout’ and associated risks to personal health & well-being, as well as serious farm safety risks.
Teagasc is producing a new tool to assist farmers in managing their time and avoiding farm safety risks.
‘Keeping active’ may mean taking a break to enjoy oneself or a holiday.
Appraising current management practices on the farm for greater work-life balance and making appropriate changes is an important step.
How can farmers recover from shock or stress?
By leveraging/using the necessary supports and services.
Asking for and getting help can be a difficult step. We understand this from research, because help-seeking can be perceived as a sign of weakness.
However, we also know, that for resilience, accessing and using supports is necessary and can deliver fortitude and strength to the farmer.
What stresses or pressures are the most common in the agricultural industry?
Teagasc has a booklet called ‘Coping with the Pressures of Farming’, produced in collaboration with Mental Health Ireland.
The booklet identifies stressors ranging from the personal to technological.
Family farming is a complex activity because it operates at the levels of the personal, social, environmental, economic, technological etc.
Can shock/stress affect a farmer’s ability to farm?
Just as shock/stress affects a person’s ability to deal with everyday tasks and challenges, it can affect a farmer’s ability to farm.
Because farmers have strong everyday routines, it can be perceived that things can go on as normal (when experiencing difficulties), but personal well-being and farm safety can be risked.
What qualities do farmers need to cope with change?
The ability to seek support, help and inspiration from family members, the wider community and development agencies.
How can farmers accept challenging times?
Farm families often are farming land for generations and have knowledge abd wisdom that allows them to adapt effectively, often collaborating with others.
We have written a historical account of Irish farmers’ abilities in this regard.
Can routine/structure to a farmers day decrease stress/anxiety?
Time management and particular routines can be very useful in avoiding stressors and risks to farmers’ health & well-being and animal health and welfare.
For example, recording data and keeping records regularly can avoid a rushed approach when records are due. Also, it can also prevent financial and other risks, such as animal health.
We know from research that there is a strong relationship between farmer well-being and animal well-being. It is often mutually dependent.
Furthermore, time management routines can incorporate adequate breaks during the working day, avoiding risks to well-being & farm safety.
Do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted a farmer’s resilience?
Many farmers have adapted well to the COVID-19 context, engaging in online discussion groups etc.
COVID-19 also poses challenges to farmers, like other cohorts of society, when access to supports and resources are cut off. This can hamper resilience.
What supports can farmers avail of?
Local Teagasc offices can identify the range of supports available to farmers – ranging from innovation supports to supports offered by policy schemes to well-being supports identified in ‘Coping with the Pressures of Farming’