This research explores the ways in which stress affects farming communities, how this has changed in recent years, and the degree to which work-related aspects of stress may be assuaged by support interventions. A qualitative case study research approach was employed to address these issues, involving 60 interviews in five locations across England and Wales.
In examining farming stress, a distinction is made between its intrinsic, extrinsic and workrelated dimensions. While interviewees tended to associate day-to-day worries and acute stress with farming's intrinsic demands (such as disease and adverse weather conditions), external causes of tension (such as competition and regulation), together with worries about finances and family, were associated with more sustained anxieties. By contrast, work-related aspects of farming stress, such as workload issues and farming practices, involved a combination of physical and mental health effects. Notably, work-related and extrinsic dimensions of stress have increased in recent years in relation to organisational and policy shifts, price fluctuations, mounting paperwork demands, workload intensification, and changes in agricultural regulation. These have prompted an escalation in the aspects of their work that farming communities feel powerless to control, and represent a major area for policy intervention.
Principal farmers displayed the most visible manifestations of stress, linked at once to the intrinsic, extrinsic and workrelated dimensions of their work. By contrast, family farm workers and labourers often lacked autonomy over the way they worked, and work-related aspects of stress concerning workload and organisation made up a greater part of their experience. Increased paperwork demands emerged as a major cause of stress among interviewees, particularly for farmers and their wives, who struggled to balance these with traditional farming priorities. Differences between farms were also influential in explaining stress. Livestock farming embodied intrinsic pressures relating to stock crises and the unpredictability of animals, but more recently has come under intense economic pressure, prompting a rationalisation of working practices. Arable farmers found the organisation of activities, such as harvesting and planting, in a context of reduced and increasingly contractual workforces particularly challenging. Mixed farmers faced the dual stresses of balancing work activities with conflicting timetables, and the paperwork demands of a complex portfolio of farming. Smaller farms were struggled with intensified workloads, while larger enterprises had to comply with the demands of more inspection regimes.
Support agencies need to overcome the stigma attached to asking for help among farming communities and offer a range of responsive and proactive services. Locally based support was more likely to be used and trusted, although concerns about client confidentiality might deter those most in need from seeking help. Where existing local networks were established, there was a strong argument for providers to plug into these and work towards publicising their efforts to ensure that support is provided most effectively. Critically, support must be multidimensional, reflecting the wide range of stressors and their impacts among farming communities.
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