FARMERS must draw on one another’s support as members of progressive rural communities if they are to reverse their industry’s concerning safety record, a high-profile event at the Great Yorkshire Showground heard.

The Future Farmers of Yorkshire, a group backed by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society to bring together younger farmers, vets and industry supporters, welcomed more than 100 members of the agricultural community to Pavilions of Harrogate on Wednesday evening (November 20).

The event represented the culmination of the group’s month-long #Fit2Farm campaign. A social media-led initiative, it has attempted to normalise the conversation around farmers’ mental and physical health and has highlighted the importance of wellbeing to farm safety.

Latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that 39 people died as a result of farming or other agriculture-related activities in Britain in 2018/19*.

Stuart Roberts, vice-president of the NFU, was one of the keynote speakers at the #Fit2Farm event. He said he believes the industry needs to dramatically improve its farm safety record as every nine days, over the last five years, someone in the industry has died.

But he added: “We are starting to see some change in the industry. It isn’t yet affecting the numbers but we are starting to see some change. All the regulations are there, we’ve got to take ownership for this.”

Mr Roberts opened up about his own struggle with dyslexia and how his wellbeing has suffered because of his difficulties reading and a previous battle to reduce his weight, and urged people to look out for each other to spot signs when people are struggling.

“We have forgotten there is a question mark at the end of ‘how are you’,” he said. “Remember that question mark, because sometimes we are not alright and actually we need to look out for each other because this industry is probably about to go through some of the biggest changes any of us have ever seen. Wherever you have change, uncertainty, you will always have anxiety, worry and stress.

“The thing I love about farming is, farming is not just a sector of the economy, we are a rural community. Communities look after each other, look out for each other.”

“When it comes to mental health, we are starting to talk about it,” he said. “These sorts of events, getting people together to start to talk about this is exactly how we start to change.”

Another speaker was Dr Caroline Knott, who works as a consultant psychologist for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation NHS Trust.

Dr Knott said farmers faced numerous stress factors including the impact of bad weather and rural crime, the decline of rural services, working in isolation, volatile commodity prices and a lack of work-life balance.

“Every single person, if you push them hard enough, will end up not being able to function. The reason it becomes important, particularly in farming, is ‘forgetting’,” she said.

“People who are really stressed, really tired… that’s when you get a farm accident, that’s when risks are made. Mistakes on a farm can mean death.”

She advised: “All of us can suffer from stress, all of us can recover from stress but it is about identifying it clearly and looking for and knowing there is support.”

Will Evans, a father of four, whose farm near Wrexham in Wales includes a herd of 330 beef cattle and 340 acres of cereals and maize, also spoke at the #Fit2Farm event.

Mr Evans, host of the popular Rock and Roll Farming podcast, told of how he had suffered his worst year in farming since foot and mouth in 2001 and that his coping mechanisms included running.

He said running had transformed his physical health but had an even bigger impact on his mental health.

“I didn’t used to deal with stress very well,” he said. “It has helped me massively to leave farm stress behind and I can only best describe it as being like a switch. I’ve found that the simple act of going for a run at the end of the day, whether it be 10 miles or just half a mile, it clears it all away.”

The Fit2Farm event was chaired by Future Farmer board member Neil Eastham, a farm animal vet based at Bishopton Veterinary Group in Ripon, who added: “It’s okay not to be okay. Things might not be fine now but with signposting to professional help, things can be better in time. Thinking about it in an industry where people are our greatest asset, let’s just make sure we look after each other and let’s help Yorkshire be fit to farm.”

Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, hailed the importance of the #Fit2Farm event, saying: "An event like this is a stark reminder to the farming community that if we want to improve our industry's safety record, we all have a duty to ourselves and each other to strive collectively to look after both our physical and mental health.

"Being fit to farm is a fundamental responsibility we all share and the #Fit2Farm campaign has acted as a powerful platform for delivering this message."