Sowing the seeds of a brighter future

Farming as an industry is by no means in the doldrums at the moment.Some product prices are still volatile, but most sectors are doing fairly well, certainly in comparison to some difficult recent years.

Farming as an industry is by no means in the doldrums at the moment.

Some product prices are still volatile, but most sectors are doing fairly well, certainly in comparison to some difficult recent years.

But just because prices are at a decent level now doesn't necessarily mean they will be for the long term - and farming, perhaps more than any industry, is about the long haul as much as it is about today's weather forecast. Farm like you'll live forever, as the saying goes.

And beyond this, money isn't everything - stress and depression can arise from long hours, working in isolation aboard a large piece of machinery, feelings of professional inflexibility and boredom with having to tackle the same difficult job day in, day out, potentially with little thanks or reward.

At the moment, arable farmers and farmworkers are commonly putting in 16 to 18-hour days as they dodge the showers to get their crops in. While most of us see some social life on these longer summer days, many farmers are at the tractor wheel or in the grain store almost constantly.

And remember another simple fact, so often ignored by those outside the industry who are heard to utter the 'you never see a farmer on a bike' quotation. Not everyone who works in the countryside owns a farm; many just draw a wage, probably a fairly low one, as a worker.

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Now fresh concerns have been raised that stress and depression is not only affecting the 'obvious' targets of middle-aged men working on the land and managing a rural economy. Now youth has been thrust into the spotlight.

Ches Broom, Norfolk Young Farmers' Club county organiser, said: “There is a lot of pressure, especially at this time of the year.

“In some ways things have got worse over the years because there are fewer people out there doing the work and the machinery can operate very late into the night because the capabilities such as lighting are so good.

“Add to that the fact the kit they are using may be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds and be very large - any mistake can mean a huge amount of capital damage or even cost a life.”

Stress can affect all ages, said Mrs Broom, and any younger farmer who had perhaps recently taken on responsibility for a farm could be under particular pressure.

“I think if you add up what some young people have to deal with when they are working in this industry, it takes quite a lot out of them.”

George Router, 20, a cereal and pig farmworker at Spooner Row, near Wymondham, said this time of year was especially busy.

“I really enjoy my job because the people I work with are a laugh,” said Mr Router. “But the long hours and the responsibility and the stress and the worry can get to some people, no doubt about that.

“You can't be an old Norfolk boy in a straw hat pottering around on your tractor; it's a precision job and these days you almost need a degree to drive a modern tractor.”

However, the flip side, said Mr Router, was that the industry was looking in a healthier state than in recent years and he knew many young people keen to get involved.

Matt Waters, 21, who is part of a mainly family contracting business in the Downham Market area, said the industry could potentially “put a lot of weight on young shoulders” and the wages could be low.

“If the weather is right, you could do 5.30am through to midnight one day and be back the same time the next morning.

“You can get grouchy, it can be emotionally draining and it is certainly hard work. I think maybe those stresses can build up over the years and cause problems.”

Sarah Brown, executive director of Farm Crisis Network, a national charity which provides support, said: “There are lot of difficulties facing farmers now, and when it comes to work this all has an impact.

“The isolation is a major factor in causing many of the problems that young people in farming experience.”