Mr. Chairman and honourable members, thank you for inviting Farm Management Canada to speak before you today on matters concerning mental health in the Canadian agricultural community.
We are the only national non-profit organization devoted to cultivating farm businesses management excellence for all farmers across Canada. We do this by developing, delivering and connecting farmers with business skills development programming and learning opportunities. We are very pleased to speak to today's topic as we see an inherent symbiotic connection between mental health and farm business management.
Farming is unique. It is unlike any other business. The family home and memories are rooted, literally, on the farm and in the business. Farmers cannot simply pick up and start over when times are tough. Farmers are facing risk and uncertainty like never before from Mother Nature to changing markets and regulations, many of which are outside of their control. Public trust and social licence are now putting more pressure on the farmers.
Stress is the human response to change, especially changes that cause worry, frustration, confusion and a sense of losing control. Our farmers are incredibly stressed. Stress can burden us to the point where it threatens our physical and mental health. Physical signs include an increased heart rate, headaches and trouble sleeping. Mental signs include difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Emotional signs include feeling anxious, agitated or depressed. Behavioural signs include restlessness, compulsive behaviours and cutting corners. Cutting corners increases risk, including in terms of farm safety, labour management, animal health and welfare, etc.
When it comes to farming, the effects of mental health go beyond the individual. The business must keep going. The team must be led. The animals must be fed, crops managed, and the cows milked. We must consider not only the mental health of the farm manager but also that of the farm team as well as how the manager and team are equipped to support positive mental health. Hence, there is an inherent connection between mental health and managing the farm.
We recently completed a study with colleagues at Agri-Food Management Excellence, looking at the impact of CTEAM, which is a national farm business training program. Participants come away with a strategic business plan for their farm. We asked the alumni to report on the impacts of the program: financial impacts including profit and debt management; business impacts including a process for decision-making, performance measurement and network of experts; and personal impacts including confidence in management decisions, the ability to prioritize and provide clear direction and to understand personal dynamics to better manage people and communicate. Interestingly, results revealed that in the eyes of the participants, personal impacts far outweighed business and financial impacts.
Farm business management practices help reduce risk, increase certainty and increase confidence. Through the business planning process, farmers create a vision and learn to set realistic goals. They also learn how to say “no.” They assess the risks and opportunities they may encounter along the way and put measures in place to mitigate and manage what is within and what is outside of their control. Planning solidifies the farm team, creating a support network including family, business partners and advisers. The plan provides a guiding light to weather any storm.
It is in this way that farm business management facilitates mental preparedness, reducing stress and the physical, mental, emotional and behavioural consequences thereof.
We're excited to explore the connection between mental health and business management further. As a first step, we're hosting “Healthy Farmer Healthy Farm”, a panel discussion at our upcoming Agricultural Excellence Conference to focus on the importance of personal capacity and growth to achieve business success. We also plan to commission a national study within the next year. We will be seeking partners to provide the necessary matching funds to secure support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
We're pleased to see mental health in the spotlight. We were part of a national initiative in 2005 to focus on mental health in agriculture. The initiative included forming a Canadian farm stress network. Activities included a dedicated website and informational brochures. Proposed activities included a national stress summit, a national strategy, and a national farm stress line along with agriculturally sensitive, peer-to-peer and professional support services for farmers and their families. The work of Au Coeur des Familles Agricoles in Quebec was being considered as a model for national expansion. ACFA, who I think you'll be hearing from on Thursday, provides house calls to check in on farmers before they reach crisis and a safe house for farmers and their families overcome by stress.
Unfortunately, sufficient funding could not be secured to continue the work of the network. Perhaps some of the ideas could be reconsidered.
Our recommendations in summary are as follows.
One, we recommend forming a national community of practice; establishing a national network to guide and monitor efforts; supporting the development of national endeavours including a mental health summit, farm stress line and resource centre; and supporting the collection and analysis of data relating to mental health incidents in rural areas.
Two, we recommend increasing access to relevant help. Allocate more resources to establish rural mental health workers in the field; equip mental health professionals with a better understanding of farming; and train and educate regarding positive mental health for farmers for themselves and employees they manage. The mental health first aid training is a great initiative.
Third is the recognition of youth. Half of all mental illness begins by age 14. We should support initiatives geared at improving mental health support for young people.
We're not afraid to say it: We believe that farmers deserve special treatment. Farmers are not only feeding you, me, and the world, farmers are the heart of our economy, environmental stewardship, public health, and community development. They need our help, and we must act.
In an ever-changing and increasingly complex global marketplace, the business-savvy farmer is positioned to confront change with confidence and seize opportunity, carving out a steady path for sustainable growth and prosperity while maintaining positive mental health. Albeit a lofty goal, business skills development and training must be recognized as a catalyst for positive mental health and an essential complement to risk management.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members and guests.