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‘On Feirm Ground’ Programme to support farmer health and wellbeing

Pictured at the launch of the new On Feirm Ground programme in October 2020 were (from left) Frank Feighan T.D., Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Seán Cooke, CEO Men’s Development Network, Martin Heydon T.D., Minister of State for Research & Development, Farm Safety and New Market Development. [Ryan Byrne, Inpho]

“It is well established that, compared to other occupational groups, farmers in Ireland experience a disproportionate burden of health problems, which undermine the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of farming.”

19 October 2020

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive, Teagasc and IT Carlow have come together to fund a programme of research that has now resulted in a training programme that will see agricultural advisors engage with farmers on their health and wellbeing over the farm gate.

The programme ‘On Feírm Ground’ is being led by the Men’s Development Network as part of Engage: the National Men’s Training Programme, and will train 800 agricultural advisors.

Click image for Interim Report

The research and resource development stage of ‘On Feírm Ground’ has been ongoing for the past twelve months with the first trainings delivered to agricultural advisors in October 2021.

The initiative was launched by Minister of State with responsibility for Research & Development, Farm Safety and New Market Development, Martin Heydon T.D. and Minister of State for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan T.D..

They discussed the importance of such joint collaborations between Departments and other stakeholders allowing for innovative thinking and the development of holistic approaches to addressing the sensitive issue of farmers’ health and wellbeing.

Minister Heydon reaffirmed the crucial importance of health and wellbeing in ensuring improvements in farm safety saying: “There is ample evidence out there to show that farmer health and wellbeing play a major role in farm safety. How can a farmer successfully look after crops or animals if they cannot look after themselves? How can you get an improvement in physical safety if the welfare of the farmer is being ignored?

“I know that the training of agricultural advisors to engage with and signpost supports to farmers over the farm gate will have a significant impact and I am delighted to be supporting such a collaborative initiative.”

Working together

Minister Feighan acknowledged the work of the initiative to date saying, “I am delighted, with my ministerial colleague, to formally launch this programme as working together across government to improve health and wellbeing underpins Healthy Ireland.”

He went on to say: “‘On Feirm Ground’ presents a genuine opportunity to equip farm advisors with a toolkit of supports in relation to physical and psychological wellbeing. Farmers, male and female, will directly benefit by being able to access reliable and consistent health information and support to improve their health and wellbeing.”

HSE Health and Wellbeing, who lead on the implementation of the Healthy Ireland Men – Action Plan to promote men’s health, has also funded this initiative and supported it through adapting existing men’s health programmes.

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, HSE National Director of Strategic Planning and Transformation said: “’On Feirm Ground’ has been enabled through partnership working and by building on the evidence developed working with the Engage Men’s Health training programme. It is very heartening to see a growing network of stakeholders for health and wellbeing coming together through this initiative to improve our reach to farmers.”

Seán Cooke, CEO of the Men’s Development Network, and project managers of the initiative, said: “I want to thank the advisory and oversight committee whose members also include the Agricultural Consultants Association, Mental Health Ireland and the Irish Heart Foundation for their commitment and enthusiasm to working in such a collaborative fashion.”

Noting there is more work to do, Seán highlighted that this programme was just one aspect of a suite of initiatives addressing farmer health and wellbeing that need to be supported.

Interim Report

As well as launching the initiative, an interim report was made available by the research partners at IT Carlow, led by Dr. Noel Richardson, Director of IT Carlow’s National Centre for Men’s Health.

Noel said: “It is well established that, compared to other occupational groups, farmers in Ireland experience a disproportionate burden of health problems, which undermine the profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of farming. 

“The report highlights a multitude of challenges concerning experiences with farming and the broader occupation of farming, including isolation and the decline of rural communities, issues relating to succession and inheritance, increasing pressures to scale up, changing farming roles and increasing paperwork demands, stresses associated with seasonal workloads, financial stress, and the pressures associated with being self-employed.

“The research findings recommend that when designing the ‘On Feirm Ground’ training programme it focuses on the individual social determinants effecting the health and wellbeing of both male and female farmers and adopts a strengths-based approach to farmers’ health and sets out clear roles, responsibilities and boundaries for advisors in their health role,” Dr. Richardson added.

Commissioned by Government Departments and the HSE

‘On Feirm Ground’ was commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine, the Department of Health and the HSE to examine how agricultural advisors might be trained to engage with and support farmers on health issues. With additional Walsh fellowship research funding, this mixed-methods study, based at IT Carlow, has developed a bespoke ENGAGE farmers’ health training module to equip frontline agricultural advisors with the knowledge, skills and competencies to engage and signpost farmers on health & wellbeing issues, and mainstream a health promotion/prevention focus into farming discussion groups.

Engage: The National Men’s Health Training Programme

ENGAGE: Ireland’s National Men’s Health Training programme, is an established and empirically tested men’s health policy capacity building measure that enhances service providers’ practice in engaging men. It was developed against a backdrop of men’s poorer health outcomes, health behaviours and health literacy; men’s under-utilisation of health services; and challenges from service providers’ perspectives in engaging men. The five partners include: Carlow IT, Men’s Development Network, HSE, Men’s Health Forum Ireland, Waterford IT.

Healthy Ireland

Healthy Ireland is a cross Government programme to encourage and support everyone living in Ireland to have the best possible physical and mental health and wellbeing.