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Study finds connection between mental health and farm planning

A new report reveals 88 per cent of farmers say following a written business plan has contributed to their peace of mind.


May 21, 2020
By Top Crop Manager

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Over the past year, Farm Management Canada (FMC) has been working with Wilton Consulting Group on ground-breaking research that explores the connection between mental health and farm business management. The findings from this research reveal a correlation between the two and inform recommendations to support farm business management activities that positively influence farmer mental health, as well as mental health supports that benefit farm business management activities.

When stressed, farmers reported several changes in behaviour to try and cope with stress. Most farmers reported undesirable coping mechanisms that may contribute to poor mental health, including working more hours and losing sleep, attending social or family gatherings less, and feeling less in control of their emotions. However, some farmers reported more frequent management behaviours, like focusing more on financial numbers and assessing or planning for alternative outcomes, when stressed.

“Our research has found that farm business management practices offer a significant opportunity for managing the stresses of farming in a way that contributes to positive mental health,” says Heather Watson, FMC executive director. “While management practices cannot eliminate stress entirely, they can play a significant role in reducing stress and promoting positive coping mechanisms.”

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Employing business management practices can help farmers get through tough times, such as market crashes or crop failures. Among farmers who use written business plans, 88 per cent claim that it has contributed to peace of mind. This confirms other recent research findings and adds new insights into ways that farm business management can be supported to improve farmer mental health.

Increasing education around the benefits of business planning with a focus on mitigating risk is one way to accomplish this. As well, building support teams to provide advice can reduce some of the burdens of decision-making. When difficulties arise, it helps to know that a team of fellow farmers, family members and/or advisors has considered different challenges and weighed in on a course of action. These options can help farmers see business management and planning as both a way to prepare for uncertain times and a source of guidance when facing difficult circumstances.

“Agriculture is more than just a business – it’s human experience, filled with passion, dedication and a sense of satisfaction,” says Marty Seymour, director of industry relations at Farm Credit Canada. “However, there are also times when the pressure and anxiety of running a farm operation or agriculture-related business can be isolating and overwhelming.

“We are here to support one another through difficult times – that’s the rural way of life. Together, we can advance our understanding of mental health challenges in the agriculture and agri-food industry so that no one has to struggle on their own.”

The report concludes with four themes that capture how FMC and the agricultural industry at large can better support farmer mental health in Canada:

  1. Continue raising awareness around stresses and the impact of mental health for farmers;
  2. Support mental health literacy for farmers and those around them;
  3. Deliver business management advice, tools and training that focus on risk management and preparedness as a way of facing uncertainty;
  4. Advocate for farmer-specific mental health support services.

Twenty-four distinct recommendations are explained further in the full report. These findings are critical for informing government policy, resource allocation, and business management and mental health service providers in supporting healthy farmers and healthy farm businesses.

This report is based on a comprehensive, national study that includes a survey of 1,735 farmers, 14 focus groups and 72 one-on-one interviews with farmers and industry representatives. Primary research took place between October 2019 and March 2020.

To read the full report, visit www.fmc-gac.com/healthymindshealthyfarms.