OFC 2021: Farmer wellbeing survey aims to make a difference

Farmers are being encouraged to take part in the largest survey to date on wellbeing in agriculture, with the results used to improve support for rural people struggling with their mental health.

The Big Farming Survey launches today (11 January) and is targeted at farmers, farmworkers, their partners and adult-aged children in England and Wales.

Farm charity Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Rabi) has created the survey with researchers from the University of Exeter, and is seeking at least 26,000 responses. It can be completed online.

See also: Where farmers in need can find charity help

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday (7 January), Rabi chief executive Alicia Chivers outlined the importance of the study.

“This will be the largest ever piece of research of its kind across England and Wales. The data we hope to collect will build a truly comprehensive picture of the pressures that are affecting all farming people, and we want all farming people to respond to us,” Ms Chivers said.

“For the first time, this survey will look at the interaction between physical health, mental wellbeing and the health of the farm businesses.

“The data that is going to be collected will allow Rabi and our partners across agriculture to work together to develop effective tools and support strategies that will enhance farmer wellbeing now and into the future.”

Five areas

The research will be led by Matt Lobley, professor of Rural Resource Management at the University of Exeter, who has created a detailed questionnaire exploring five areas:

  • About you and your farm
  • Your wellbeing and quality of life
  • Your relationships with others
  • Your health
  • Your farm business

Findings from the research will be published in the autumn.

Dr Peter Aitken, consultant psychiatrist and director of R&D at Devon Healthcare Trust, praised the work of farm leaders to address wellbeing in the industry, but said there was more to do.

“I’m very impressed at how leaders in the sector have taken the challenge of communicating the importance of mental health and wellbeing to a dispersed and sometimes quite isolated community of people, who in the main are not in the habit of having these conversations,” Dr Aitken told the online conference.

“I am picking up through rural networks that this conversation is becoming more ordinary but we’ve still got a considerable way to go. There are now several organisations making effort in the mental health and wellbeing space in the farming sector.”

Dr Aitken called on farm leaders to review which support was most helpful to rural communities, to help inform future programmes. “The lead for this has to come from within the sector, and then the NHS has to be open and receptive to the questions that matter to farming.”