Farming North – Brexit and Mental Health

With harvest 2018 complete, the grain is in store and already new crops are in the ground and ready to face the worst that winter might throw at them.

These are the first of the UK crops that will be sold in the brave new world after Brexit.

However, while seeds grow and get harvested year after year oblivious to the endless arguments that surround the politics of farming, the question must be … “Are farmers ready for every eventuality after March 2019?”

Surely some strategy for farming life beyond 2019 has to make common sense and most advisers are agreed that “enhanced resilience” has to be a number one priority on all farms and crofts.

We can only worry about the politicians never ending arguments, but we can make a difference to our own futures by being one step ahead of the game and reviewing some key areas in business strategies for our own farms. Being pro-active rather than re-active, will make a huge difference to the way we cope with a bunch of politicians who may or may not agree what happens after next March.

I fully realise that a lot of farmers have already made changes and tried to make themselves “Brexit-Proof” but another look never does any harm, even if it’s only for reassurance purposes.

So, what can we do to get our businesses resilient for the future? The first point is to embrace the notion of “Absolute Honesty and Reality”

That means taking a long hard look at what we do, the reasons why we do it and being brutally honest with ourselves … These are not times to be sentimental and wear rose-coloured glasses!

Given that support payments may well disappear in the long term, we should take a look at how any enterprise might survive without that support.

Some farms can only grow grass and keep livestock and for these the way to strengthen the business maybe through more co-operation and sharing resources with friends and neighbours. A lot of farmers are members of a Monitor Farm scheme or something similar and these are an excellent way of measuring your own performance against others. These schemes are run by experts who understand the challenges farm businesses are facing and they want to see successful farmers after Brexit.

Getting to grips with costs, maximising output per acre and then translating that into bottom-line profit are exactly what these advisers do best and while it requires time, effort and cost … that investment will be well worthwhile in the long run.

Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the Monitor Farm Scheme is the sharing of knowledge and problems. The realisation that your problem is not unique and that there is a solution can be a real game-changer for some farmers.

Some of us were privileged over the past few weeks to hear New Zealand farmer Doug Avery speak at a series of meetings in Scotland with the title “Drought, Adversity and Breaking New Ground”. Doug told us his personal life story and how farming with several years of drought broke him mentally … In a moving talk he recalled losing a close farming friend to suicide and how he learnt the hard way that “It’s okay not to be okay”.

It was the hardest interview I’ve ever done for the radio as I watched a grown man recall what happened and then in tears tell me that even if one person told someone else they weren’t okay mentally – then his whole trip from New Zealand had been worthwhile.

In other words … if you are finding the going tough and don’t know where to turn or what to do – just tell someone – asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength!

It is going to be a challenge to cope with everything Brexit might throw at us over the next few years and our mental health needs to be in top form to cope with it all … If it’s not and you feel the need for help, please tell someone!

There is plenty of help available and here are some places to go …

RSABI – Call 0300 111 4166

Breathing Space – Call 0800 83 85 87

Samaritans – Call 08457 90 90 90 …

This list is by no means complete, just a suggested starting point and of course your own Doctor is always there to help!

@farmerjonesy