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New research highlights the daily pressures on UK farmers

1 October 2018, at 12:00am

Farmers are among the UK’s hardest workers – but long hours and a lack of holidays threaten to undermine the health and wellbeing of many working in the industry, an exclusive Farmers Weekly survey reveals

According to the research, the average farmer works 65 hours a week – much longer than the UK national average of 37 hours. Some growers and livestock producers admitted to putting in over 100 hours a week to keep their businesses going.

The survey also reveals the lack of down time for the nation’s farmers, who take just 11 days of paid leave a year compared with the 28-day national average. One in ten said they had taken no holiday at all over the past 12 months.

“There are outside pressures too – many beyond our control,” says Farmers Weekly editorial director, Karl Schneider. “The weather is one thing – but volatile market prices, over-zealous policymakers, rural crime and all the uncertainty that Brexit brings are all taking their toll.

“It's little wonder then that many farmers feel under pressure, struggling to balance work, family and outside interests.”

Dealing with stress

A consequence of all this is increased stress.

According to the survey, while 64% of respondents said they felt in good shape physically, only 55% said they were doing well mentally.

This is further illustrated in terms of farmers’ sleep patterns. Over 80% of respondents said they had trouble sleeping some or all of the time, while 16% said they never get enough sleep.

The average amount of sleep achieved was 6.5 hours each night – well short of the 8 hours recommended.

One alarming side effect of this is the high accident rate seen in the farming industry. One in five farmers said they had been involved in a work-related accident within the past 12 months, confirming agriculture’s status as one of the UK’s most hazardous occupations.

More than 875 farmers, farm managers and workers responded to the online survey, which was undertaken independently in association with crop protection company Bayer and pick-up truck manufacturer Isuzu during August and September.

Fit2Farm campaign

Together with the survey, Farmers Weekly is this week launching its Fit2Farm campaign, intended to promote better health and wellbeing among farmers.

“Overcoming big challenges is seldom easy, but farming faces many over the coming years and the businesses which are most likely to thrive are those that are healthiest and in best shape,” says Farmers Weekly chief reporter Johann Tasker, who has orchestrated the survey.

“Healthy farm businesses need healthy farmers, yet we know that, while farmers are great at looking after their equipment and their livestock, they sometimes neglect their own wellbeing.”

Over the coming weeks, Farmers Weekly will help farmers maintain and enhance their physical health and mental wellbeing, with a series of features designed to illustrate best practice and encourage farmers to achieve a better work-life balance.

“We have also teamed up with three farming charities – the Farming Community Network, the Farm Safety Foundation and the Worshipful Company of Farmers – to try and get the messages across,” says Mr Tasker.

Farmers are also being encouraged to share their own experiences and advice with Farmers Weekly and on social media, including @FarmersWeekly on Twitter, using the hashtag #Fit2Farm

Dan Lydiate is Fit2Farm ambassador

To drive the campaign forward, Farmers Weekly has teamed up with international rugby star Dan Lydiate, (Ospreys, Wales and 2013 British & Irish Lions flanker), who is also a beef and sheep farmer in mid-Wales.

“Health and wellbeing is a massive issue – in farming and rugby,” he says. “They are both macho industries where people don’t always want to talk about their feelings, or show any weakness by admitting they might be struggling.

“Farmers are probably the hardest workers I know. But if you work hard, you’ve got to play hard too. You’ve got to enjoy things and you’ve got to make time for yourself.”

Rugby is the most popular sport among farmers, with 13% belonging to their local rugby club, followed by cricket (5%) and soccer (5%).

But 45% of farmers say they never exercise outside of work, while 52% of all respondents say they consume alcohol regularly.

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