In this article, Scottish farmer and FCN FarmWell Award 2021 winner Scott Dewart discusses the last few busy months on the farm, challenging weather and the importance of finding stress management techniques that work for you.
You can access Scott’s award-winning video about finding a healthy work-life balance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOpWp7arJQQ
From a frosty start to 20-degree days followed by snow, hard frost and now back to rain, we have seen a variable forecast at best of the last month at a time when we are really needing the heat combined with some rain to kick start the growing season. Instead we have seen hard frosts this week and then back to mild rain, which brings its own challenges.
As the agricultural community gears up for one of the busiest times of year, be it lambing, spring sowing, general field work, we find ourselves coming out of a cold dark winter and into spring. Personally, this is one of my favourite times of year, watching the hedgerows and trees burst into life, hearing the birds starting to sing again and getting geared up for lambing. However, as we move into spring and the jobs that come with it, it can also result in farmers spending long periods of time on their own, be it in the cab or in the lambing shed. I was speaking to someone the other day who was saying that he was trying to balance his time between spring work and spending time with his partner and their new-born twins.
It’s no secret that our industry carries with it a fair amount of stress and various levels of pressure – current volatility of cost of production being one of them, with feed costs soaring, fertiliser prices higher than they have ever been before and, although market prices remain steady for the likes of beef and lamb, they not being where they need to be to cover the increases seen in the inputs required to get these end products to market. There have been several articles in the press recently surrounding UK agriculture and the issues surrounding the rapidly increasing cost of production, The Guardian, BBC News and the County Times all highlight these issues looking at different farms across Scotland, England and Wales.
Egg producers for example, due to the current on-going housing order for the threat caused by Avian Influenza, can no longer market free range eggs, resulting in eggs being downgraded and sold as barn eggs. With feed costs rising astronomically, some producers are even considering not housing birds to see what the market does going forward. Pig producers face similar issuing, with spiralling feed costs and the want to drive forward efficiencies. It seems just now, regardless of the arm of agriculture we are working in, each one is facing similar challenges.
April is Stress Awareness Month and there are so many good resources available to help combat the effects of stress. Personally, one of my favourites is mindfulness, I have tried to keep this going with various breathing exercises and sessions ran at work, however it sometimes proves difficult to find the time. FarmWell has a wide range of articles and resources, and FCN provides a fantastic service to anyone that feels they need someone to talk to.
The theme of ‘community’ has been chosen for this year’s stress awareness campaign and I think that is a theme everyone within the UK Agricultural industry can get behind, as we are one big community. No matter what type of production you undertake, we all understand what each other is going through and the pressures we can face at varying times of the year. There are so many studies ongoing at the minute surrounding mental health in agriculture and specifically focusing on the impacts of the pandemic on mental health – be it industry-funded or student projects such as BSc (Hons) or MSc.
Yesterday I found myself struggling with the culmination of sleepless nights and long days trying to get too much done in too few hours and ended up making a coffee and just sitting in the lambing shed on the phone to my friend. This half an hour just made the difference, it took my mind off work, the farm and the stream of bad luck we have been having recently. It was just nice to catch up with someone who was also in the midst of lambing.
So even although we may all be flat out at the minute and wanting to get cows out to grass, lambs out the shed or cracking on with the drill, sometimes we just need that half an hour to just take stock, blether to someone who knows what you’re feeling like and regroup.