Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Scheme targeting Farmers’ Health and Wellbeing, the initiative builds on and extends the work of several key prior initiatives undertaken by a range of organisations, programmes and partnerships.
These include but are not limited to: Engage, Fit for Farming, Farmers Have Hearts, the National Men’s Health Programme, Men on the Move, Mental Health Ireland, and Sheds for Life. Men’s Development Network has the lead coordinating role in this new undertaking.
The core objective of the FarmConnect project is to pilot – in Waterford and Roscommon, over a 12-month implementation period – the development of a scalable national programme to address farmer health and wellbeing in a sustainable, coherent manner.
A programme will be offered to 64 farmers in each of the two pilot counties. Twenty skilled and specially-trained facilitators will involve the farmers – supported by a proven ‘buddy’ referral system – in a transformational process covering four key FARM (Connect) themes: Fitness, Awareness, Resilience, and Meitheal, meaning community support.
Following an evidence-based approach, the project will use the combined principles of community development, social science and non-formal education to engage with farmers. Participants’ attitudes will be reframed through the creation of an environment that fosters Social and Emotional learning (SEL).
According to Teagasc data for 2019, approximately 40,000 farmers in Ireland do not engage with any sector-based services or advisors at all. FarmConnect, both in its pilot phase and future scaled-up form, will seek to prioritise this ‘hard to reach’ section of the farming population.
Also, though the Men’s Development Network will coordinate the project, the 15 per cent of farmers that are women will be positively included.
A highly expert and experienced Operational Group, representing a broad range of stakeholders in both the agriculture and health arenas, will oversee the pilot programme’s operation and delivery.
Clare Thoma, coordinator of our new FarmConnect pilot programme, pictured with Teagasc Research Officer, Dr David Meredith, at a seminar on Farmer Wellbeing and Mental Health in the Teagasc Conference Centre in Ashtown, Dublin, on 6 May 2022.
David, who leads the Teagasc Rural Economy & Development Programme at Ashtown, has been invited to contribute to the Training of FarmConnect Facilitators ahead of the programme’s rollout in Waterford and Roscommon in the coming months.
The Seminar, entitled ‘Securing Farmer Wellbeing: Supporting the Social Sustainability of Farming’, was an opportunity to bring together a range of interested stakeholders towards developing a better understanding of the issues affecting and affected by mental health within the Agri sector.
Dr David Christian Rose of Reading University, who has recently completed a UK study of this subject called ‘Landscapes of Support’, gave a presentation at what proved to be an interesting event.
Dr Meredith referenced a recent Irish study in which 27% of farmers reported their wellbeing was ‘poor’ or ‘below average’, whilst a further study found that the most common sources of work-related stress are weather, workload and money. Other issues causing stress include policy changes, regulation and farm succession.
“Farmers face a unique set of acute and chronic stressors including farm bureaucracy, climatic conditions, animal and crop disease outbreaks, time pressures, workplace hazards, rural crime, finance, isolation, machinery breakdowns and media criticism,” Dr Christian Rose told the seminar.