Red tape burden is the biggest stress factor

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Coping with animal health and other government-focussed administration requirements is putting more pressure on farmers than concerns they may have over debt-related matters.

This is the main finding of a new study undertaken by staff at Ulster University. The work was undertaken by a team headed up by Ursula Walsh.

“It surprised us to learn that coping with red tape and bureaucracy are the major stress factors impacting on farmers in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Beforehand, I thought that money worries would have been the issue that gave farmers most cause for concern.

“We specifically focussed on a male farming cohort. The work comprised a survey of farmers attending the 2014 Balmoral Show. This was followed up by similar surveys, carried out at livestock marts. We also sourced feedback from a farm focus group. We surveyed 94 farmers in total.”

Walsh said that occupational stress is an issue that comes to the fore within all walks of life.

“But farming is different,” she added. “It is more than an occupation. In many cases, entire families are involved in the business. Farmers are actually living in their places of work. And, of course there is a unique history associated with each farm.

“Farmers and their spouses have been shown to suffer more anxiety and depression than non-farmers. Suicide is the second most common cause of death after accidents in young farmers. And, in addition, suicide is also a significant cause of mortality in older and retired farmers and amongst farmers’ wives.”

Walsh also confirmed that farmers are more likely to offload any worries they have to their veterinary surgeon than anyone else they come in contact with.

“Vets significantly outscore GPs in this regard,” she added.

In light of these findings, Walsh is recommending that a comprehensive and probing overhaul of the administrative burdens required of farmers be undertaken in order to create more accessible, user-friendly and less weighty administrative procedures.

“We have already brought these matters to the attention of local politicians and representatives of the various government departments at Stormont. Our results will, hopefully, feed into the UK government’s programme to reduce the red tape burden on the business sector as a whole.”

The work undertaken by the University of Ulster team was carried out in association with colleagues at the University of Birmingham.