Seed World

Stepping up for Mental Health

Back a handful of years ago, a researcher from the University of Guelph named Dr. Andria Jones-Bitton surveyed more than 1,100 Canadian farmers about their stress levels and mental health. 45% of the farmers she talked to reported high stress. 38% reported feeling mentally exhausted. 43% reported feeling cynicism. Less than 50% thought the agriculture industry offered enough mental health support.

The statistics only underline what so many in this industry already know: agriculture can be very, very hard on the human psyche. Production uncertainty, weather woes and market fluctuations can rattle the very toughest of farmers. But there’s more: the inconsistent demands of farming – the pressure and high intensity of certain weeks of production, countered by the waiting and wondering in others – can be very difficult to navigate emotionally.

While statistics aren’t available globally or for other parts of the agriculture value chain, I know from many personal conversations that those same pressures impact farmers, seed companies, and secondary agricultural suppliers around the world.  

We know this ourselves. Though the innovation part of our business continues all year, Kannar Earth Science, Ltd has a huge ramp up in production for just a few months each winter/spring. Just like farmers and seed companies, we go seemingly overnight from a regular workload to pushing as hard as we can around the clock to achieve the necessary production. And just like farmers and seed companies, we rapidly decelerate back to quieter when that intensive preparation and production phase is over. 

Whether you’re a primary producer or a company that supports farming, the production cycle is a very emotional process. I feel resolved and excited before the season, toggle between intense adrenaline and feelings of overwhelm through the height of production, then move from elated and relieved to uncertain and even deflated once production is done.       

One of the biggest challenges of cyclical, inconsistent workload is that it can be very challenging to develop a year-round identity related to what one does. That’s why finding an identity outside of what you do – in our case, in our team and our company; in farmers’ case, in their family, their land and their community – is so critical. 

Kannar is not in the mental health and wellness business. However, we recognize that promoting mental health is critical and needs to be actively supported in our industry. Within our own business, we make fostering mental health a priority: we offer a nap room and meditation room just off our production floor; we have a social committee tasked exclusively with building a sense of team, and we talk openly about how we’re truly doing. 

We also look outwards towards agriculture as a whole. When we innovate, we keep things simple – no complicated mixing, no complicated rules, and the highest degree of latitude for adjacent farm ingredients – so our products don’t add to farmers’ in-season stress. We don’t just care about a product being effective; we care about it being a real benefit to the people who use it. 

This year, supporting mental health is especially important since we all face the added mental strain of an almost two-year-long pandemic. Farmers and ag businesses alike are carrying extra business stress: pandemic-related costs, staffing challenges and more. There’s fear and frustration attached to the pandemic itself. And we’re all worn out from being disconnected from loved ones and community. Let’s be gentle to ourselves, extra thoughtful to our teams, and together actively step up for our industry’s mental health.