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Farmers are feeling the pressure from all sides

March 31st, 2024 11:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WEST Cork has a thriving and important industry in agriculture. So taking regular soundings from the men and women who make up the sector is important for the region.

And that is what The Southern Star has done in recent weeks, getting the temperature of the industry from farmers who comprise this very vibrant part of the local economy.

The results were very revealing and, in some instances, quite worrying. One of the figures which jumped out straight away was the huge number of farmers who felt there were not enough mental health supports for them.

Mental health is not an issue that we heard many farmers speaking about in previous decades but thankfully the stigma is almost gone now and many well-known men and women in the industry have come out in recent times to share their experiences in a bid to get others to share theirs.

As any mental health expert will know, talking is the best way to address a problem, and sharing does ease the burden. But all too often it appears easier to keep things hidden and try to deal with the big issues ourselves.

Of course, we now know that the silent approach solves no problems, because a problem shared with a supportive ear really is a problem halved. It’s no wonder, then, that farmers are very aware of the supports that are needed in the sector.

A huge 81% said they felt there weren’t enough of them for farmers in need of mental health expertise. And it is no coincidence that this response comes at a time when farmers are feeling more put-upon than ever. Another question the survey asked farmers was if they felt they were being unfairly blamed for greenhouse gas emissions.

A total of 66.6% – two thirds – of farmers agreed that the criticism of the industry with regard to emissions was ‘not justified’. And yet almost half of all respondents (45%) said that climate action was ‘very important’ with a further 44% saying it was ‘somewhat important’.

That’s an increase on our 2020 survey, when 40.5% said it was ‘very important’ – showing the growth in fears for the effects climate change is having on the industry. The timing is no surprise, either, with the past year seeing many farmers struggling with flooded fields and farmyards due to increased rainfall.

A huge majority of farmers also feel they are being ‘unfairly blamed’ for the reduction in the nation’s water quality – almost 82% agreeing with this sentiment. Pressure on farm incomes and rising costs were also mentioned in the survey, with 88% believing the government has not done enough to protect what farmers earn.

A similar number – 88.3% – said they didn’t feel adequately compensated for their work. When asked about their main concerns for the future, climate change only registered with 11% of respondents, yet high input costs were cited by 38.5% of farmers.

All of this paints a picture of a sector under pressure from many angles, which explains the emphasis on concern regarding mental health supports.

Our farmers are our lifeblood – literally – providing essential food items while also propping up our local economies. For an entire sector to feel so disgruntled, on so many fronts, is worrying.

And yet, reflecting the sector’s resilience, many farmers are still positive about their futures and appear to still love what they do.

An encouraging 73.6% believe they will still be in farming 10 years from now, and 76.3% would recommend farming as a way of life.

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