Farmer as identity: the heavy weight of trade deals, succession, and scrutiny

(Debra Murphy/RealAgriculture)

I’m worried about the tone of many conversations I’ve had with dairy farmers recently. Following on the heels of the latest trade deal, many farmers are angry, feeling steamrolled, or, quite frankly, are afraid that their very livelihood is being threatened.

It’s not just dairy farmers feeling the pinch, of course — farming carries a  unique mix of history, family relationships, place, and multi-million dollar decisions. Add in constant critiques by ill-informed consumers or huge trade deals that impact the bottom line, and you’ve got a high-stress situation with limited health resources available.

While farming isn’t the only career choice with high stress and long hours, farming does come with some unique aspects, not the least of which farmers identifying very strongly with their occupation. So much so, that some farmers may not really be able to see themselves as anything but farmers — when that livelihood is threatened, what happens to the very human part of the farmer? Where do they go for help?

To help answer this question, I went to Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the University of Guelph, who, along with PhD candidate Briana Hagen, is working on a farmer’s mental health pilot project that is rolling out this fall. (More after the player…)

Jones-Bitton and Hagen both understand that farming carries with it a unique mental burden; that it’s rare to be expected to run a business with people you live with, in a place your family has lived for generations, with a business that is largely immovable. You may even have to keep other beings alive as your main job. These stresses — and the consequences of not doing your job — add up quickly.

Hagen, as part of her PhD, has been exploring what other countries offer as mental health support for farmers and how they deliver these programs, as a means of exploring how Canada can better serve and support our farmers. It’s key, she says, that farmers know that people they reach out to, and the individuals providing resources, actually understand farming.

I, for one, am so very glad to see this pilot project moving forward, I am also glad to know that the Standing Committee on Agriculture is hearing from farmers across Canada, in the hopes of creating a national farmer mental health strategy. In the meantime, for those worried about what the future holds, I hope that a little extra understanding of what you’re going through might go a long way in recognizing that you’re not the only one who feels this way. And sharing that you’re struggling does not mean admitting defeat or is somehow a sign of not being good enough. We all struggle. I promise you that.

Wake up with RealAgriculture

Subscribe to our daily newsletters to keep you up-to-date with our latest coverage every morning.

Wake up with RealAgriculture