Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Farmers' and their families' health

By Beth Dooley and Dr Tim Dudgeon

Devon and Cornwall

People are at the heart of the South West’s agricultural system. However, like other regions, the South West suffers from ill health amongst its farming community.

Rural disconnectedness and social isolation, financial strain and uncertainty about the future, all impact on the health of farmers and their families. The Commission’s locally led inquiry in Devon noted several initiatives in the Devon and Cornwall region that highlight the positive action being taken to address these concerns.

The Derek Mead clinic opened at Sedgemoor Auction Centre in 2018. Anyone working in the farming community can receive essential health checks and can speak about mental health issues confidentially with a nurse. The clinic is held directly next to a livestock market, a venue which farmers would already be visiting, to make it easier for farmers to attend and raise awareness of its work. Livestock markets can be ideal locations for services such as these. However, between 2003 and 2010, the number of livestock markets operating in the South West shrunk from 27 to 16, with only 7 remaining in Devon. To support the section in the future, the placement of support services in the region needs to be able to react to these changes.

The Farming Community Network (FCN) is a voluntary organisation operating across England and Wales to support farmers and families. It is a member of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, and through the commitment of 400 volunteers organised in county groups, FCN offers free, confidential face-to-face and online pastoral and practical support to those who seek help. FCN

serves about 6,000 people a year. Given Cornwall’s high number of small, isolated farms, FCN has focused on providing support for business and mental and physical health matters to farmers in the county. In Devon, FCN were invited by the Clinical Commissioning Group to present their services to all lead GPs and Practice Managers, thereby raising their profile.

FarmCornwall is a charity which provides support to farmers on a range of business issues, from debt advice to training and education and support with diversification. As well as working individually with farmers, it delivers The Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme in Mid Cornwall, which brings together small, family farms for free workshops and support.

The Cornwall Farming Health Hub is a new initiative seeking to complement the existing work in the region. Initially likely to take place for a six month trial, acting from a base but with potential for roaming services, it will place an emphasis on providing support across business health, physical and mental health, and the interconnections between the three, as well as sign posting farmers to other specialist support organisations.

Significant changes to farming are anticipated and the ramifications on farmer health are a ticking time bomb, especially amongst the older generation who are already less likely to seek support. Critical to supporting farmer health is tackling the interconnected issues of business, physical and mental health, and doing so in a way which addresses the problems at root cause rather than merely treating symptoms. Support services will become increasingly important. All organisations working with the farming community, across both public, third and private sectors, can help to raise the profile of such services amongst their networks.