Factors in your workplace can impact on your mental health – such as poor environmental conditions, issues with change management, low job control, and high work demands. These are called work-related factors, which when not addressed can increase the risks of workplace stress or lead to poor workplace mental health. However, there are some simple ways to reduce these risks on your farm.
Steve runs a cropping and livestock family farming business in Western Victoria. He prides himself on being up to date in his farming methods and at the cutting edge of his industry. He reads a lot about farming, loves the science involved in farming and is a confident, evidence-based decision maker. He wants to be “future-ready”, so adapting to change is a constant and important part of his role in leading the farm business.
Steve readily accepts that global climate change is real and that agriculture is a major contributor. He is very concerned about the future of farming and the often divisive language of public debate on climate change and agriculture. He talks with his family and his farming mates about it often. They agree that climate-change predictions can negatively impact farmers’ mental health as they look to the future. “What starts as a rational, manageable concern can turn into serious anxiety issues for some on the land”, he observes.
However, Steve, has a more pragmatic approach. “Farmers need to find ways to promote optimism and hope while we collaborate with research scientists, government and other industries to find workable solutions and to take action on climate change. It’s okay to complain – but you also have to do something about it! Work on the factors that are within your control – both in relation to climate change, and your overall levels of workplace stress. Be the change you want to see.”
Focussing on the solutions rather than the problem clearly helps Steve to keep a positive mindset as he works towards a better climate future for himself, his industry and the planet.
One of his mates encouraged him to join Farmers for Climate Action so he could network with like-minded farmers grappling with the same questions. Turns out there are more than 9000 genuine Aussie farmers in the group, including quite a few in his region. They have had some good chats and he enjoys reading their informative and positive material. He feels less isolated now that he is part of this network of like minded farmers.
In conversation with some of these farmers he hears comments that he really resonates with:
Julie says: “why do people make farmers the scapegoats for climate change … they want to cut off the hand that feeds them. We have to survive drought, fire, floods and price wars – all of which are factors beyond our control. So imagine what it does to a farming community’s sense of self-worth when blamed by others for high emissions. And we seem to get no credit in the public eye for the work we’re already doing like landcare and revegetation projects and efficiency improvements”, she adds.
Alice and Tony own a zero-till cropping farm in the southern Wimmera. They are concerned that individual businesses haven’t been given targets to sequester soil carbon. Their soil carbon is about 2% on average after 20 years of no cultivation and minimal burning. They are concerned this carbon in their bank won’t be counted whereas new adopters of zero-till system will be advantaged in the carbon storage race.
Another couple talk about the anxiety caused by financial stress: “solutions at the moment are too expensive and require investment. Getting subsidies to upgrade equipment that will reduce our farm emissions is too difficult. However, the cost of not doing anything is far greater in the long run. We want to change but simply can’t do it all at once!”
Finally, Davo sums it up: “Farmers are no longer the lobby group that is denying climate change. We are among those looking for climate action. We are starting with adapting our own farm businesses. You should see how ambitious the industry targets are for emission reductions in our sector! We need to get a move on – the clock is ticking.”
Steve reckons that whilst farmers are indeed changing their mindset on climate issues, the preconceptions, misconceptions and political opportunism sometimes leave the Aussie farmer as “the meat in the sandwich”.
“For some farmers, climate change predictions are leading to more than just concern, it is actually creating a new wave of stress and uncertainty, some of which may become mental health challenges. In the short term, farmers feel like they are footing the bill on behalf of every Australian – we cop the cost of adapting our enterprises and then we cop having the finger pointed at us by people who have no idea how and what we do,” he says.
Julie can see the same thing happening, but points out that respectful, calm, considered public debate about how farmers should respond to climate change does not need to cause widespread trauma and distress amongst farmers. Farmers listen to other farmers. That is why she wants to be a part of Farmers for Climate Action it helps her make positive contributions to discussions on this topic within her own farming networks.
Steve is big on doing the things that are within your control, and not stressing too much about the rest. So he and his family have done an emissions audit to look for ways to reduce emissions from their energy, transport, cropping and livestock on the farm. He wants to make their carbon footprint smaller.
At the same time they have assessed a raft of alternative-energy options. However the upfront cost seems rather prohibitive, and government has reduced feed-in tariffs making the concept unviable at present. He is also interested in seeing what options a proposed wind farm might present to his local community.
Adopting more sustainable soil health and livestock management systems and investing in more efficient water usage are also things Steve is quietly chipping away at. He can’t wait for livestock feed additives to become commercially available so he can reduce the methane emissions from his cattle herd. He has already improved his soil health significantly, and the tree corridors he has been planting for years are going really well – sequestering tonnes and tonnes of carbon into the soil. “You can’t do everything at once though, it’s one step at a time”, Steve admits. “But taking positive action on my own place helps make me feel like I am part of the solution, not just part of the problem!”
Steve’s neighbour Mick is excited about trialling canola seed inoculated with specific soil fungi which sequester carbon on a large scale in his cropping system. “If we can partner that with a reliable carbon market in Australia, then we are really going to see some solutions to climate change and some economic viability come out of the farming sector.” Mick says.
“Innovation and new opportunities can come out of the climate crisis, but we farmers need courage and a ‘can-do’ attitude to find and implement those solutions.”
Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too.
The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include poor environmental conditions, low job control, low role clarity and more.
Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at www.farmerhealth.org.au/campfire.
This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.