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Why we need to keep talking about the challenges of working in the agricultural Sector

Published: 13 February 2023
Time to read: 4 mins

A man with his back to camera wearing a waxed jacket and flat tweed cap looking across a field

While so many of us crave a fresh start at the beginning of a new year, 2023 hasn’t yet brought the optimism we had hoped for.  Energy prices and the volatility of that particular market, together with the fear of further Russian advancements in Ukraine continue to add pressure to the global economy, our lives and our bank balances. These concerns also add to the continuing uncertainty for the agricultural sector encountering challenges around food production, rising costs and a number of significant pieces of emerging legislation, which will have implications for those who work in agriculture in Scotland.

Over the years, the sector has of course witnessed considerable evolution and has shown its sense of community and robustness in dealing with these challenges, not just at a macro level but in recognising the individual pressures involved in working in the agricultural sector, such as isolation and financial worries. We are fortunate to have a strong and focused sector with multiple agencies working together to help it thrive. One of those organisations “flying the flag” and supporting the sector as a whole is RSABI. The charity, which celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, offers practical, emotional and financial support to people involved in the Scottish agricultural industry.

Research undertaken by the Farm Safety Foundation, Yellow Wellies and the School of Psychology NTSAg at the University of Aberdeen, conducted in 2021 investigated the mental health fears for Farmers. The study revealed social separation as a significant issue due to the nature of their work involving long periods of lone working and geographical distance from family and friends, as well as financial strain around the uncertainty of product pricing. A further study by the Farm Safety Foundation found that 88% of farmers under the age of 40 identified poor mental health as the biggest problem they face today.

With these sector challenges in mind, RSABI has launched a series of initiatives to help tackle the issues affecting individuals in Scottish agriculture. At the end of last year, RSABI in partnership with Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs (SAYFC) announced a pilot initiative to trial the Thrive Mental Wellbeing app in three of its clubs across Scotland. The app, available to almost four million users worldwide and approved by the NHS, is being used in the industry for the first time, offering support to young people by providing a live chat feature with qualified therapists easily accessible from their phone, as well as mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques.

In a busy and often solitary working environment it can be difficult to know what to look out for and how to respond when someone may be struggling with mental health worries. At the beginning of 2023, RSABI rolled out a Mental Health First Aid training initiative for individuals working in the sector to gain certification in mental health awareness, building on their #keeptalking campaign encouraging people to look out for others during the winter months. The training offers individuals the knowledge to provide practical support to someone that may be struggling.

Alongside growing mental health matters, the agricultural industry has not been exempt from the ever-increasing pressures of rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis. The sector has seen significant uptake in support schemes, and it is important for farmers to know the grants are available to them. The RSABI ‘Help for Heating’ grant is available to farmers, crofters and others working in, or retired from, the agricultural sector who are struggling to absorb the rising costs of heating their homes.

I was recently appointed as a Trustee of RSABI and having spent over a decade providing legal advice to rural families and businesses, I have witnessed how much the agricultural sector can be affected by influences farmers can’t control like weather and global issues. I know how vital the support of organisations like RSABI is to help people deal with financial and emotional pressures. It is important to continue to raise awareness about the challenges facing this crucial industry and the need to ensure the right support is in place.

*This article originally featured in The Scotsman on 13 February 2023

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