FW Opinion: Don’t let Hollywood big mouths get you down

It has been another rough week for British agriculture, with storm-force winds battering the country on Sunday and Monday, and extra rain thrown in for good measure.

Farmers’ reflections on social media told the story of just how bad Storm Ciara was.

Pictures were posted of fields under water (again), roofs torn from buildings, livestock stranded on islands and fallen trees blocking country roads.

See also: Storm Ciara wreaks flooding chaos across farms

The most striking image, however, was the video taken by Amanda Owen, aka the Yorkshire Shepherdess, of her cattle trailer being swept away by a raging torrent in Swaledale, North Yorkshire.

She described the event as being “of Biblical proportions” as farmers battled the worst of what Mother Nature could throw at them.

But, as well as the physical assault, farming has come under verbal attack again – this time from Hollywood film star Joaquin Phoenix, who used his best actor award acceptance speech at this week’s Oscars to slag off the dairy sector.

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Phil Clarke
Executive editor, Farmers Weekly

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A well-known vegan, he spoke of the “unmistakable cries of anguish” as baby calves are “stolen” from their mothers after giving birth, leaving them to produce milk to “put in our coffee and our cereal”.

The industry has faced sustained and unjustified criticism for months and this latest attack, in front of an audience of millions, is likely to have taken a further toll.

The consequences could be serious. For as this week’s survey from the Farm Safety Foundation (FSF) shows, poor mental health is closely related to agriculture’s abysmal safety record, with 85% of younger farmers making a direct link between the two.

A social media video – The Last Word – launched as part of FSF’s Mind Your Head campaign, aims to drive home the risks of going to work in a dangerous environment with high levels of anxiety. It does not end well for the farming couple who have just had a row.

As in this film, if farmers and their staff are not in the right headspace, the consequences can be fatal.

It’s sobering to remember that 39 people lost their lives in farm accidents last year – many of which could have been prevented.

According to FSF manager Stephanie Berkeley, UK agriculture is facing a mental health crisis.

Levels of depression are on the rise, stress-related calls to farming charities are increasing and, in 2018, a shocking 83 suicides were registered among people working in agriculture.

As ever, the key is to be watchful – of yourself and of those around you. Be aware of what pressures they are under and what the danger signs are.

Talking is crucial and, if need be, seek outside assistance. Organisations such as the Farming Community Network, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Samaritans and Yana (You Are Not Alone) are there to help.

As with physical health, the key message for mental health is to spot it early and tackle it head on. And don’t give too much credence to Hollywood big mouths who have an axe to grind.

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