Stresses going up for Ontario's farmers

May 01, 2024

'When you know your parents and generations even before them have handed down a successful, sustainable, productive farm to you, there is tremendous pressure to thrive' - MP Michael Mantha

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP, Michael Mantha writes a regular column about provincial initiatives and issues impacting our community. This column was originally released by Mantha's office.

Recently, one evening, I was working from home, catching up on some reading and making notes after enjoying a meeting with several representatives from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. We covered various issues that farmers and the agricultural sector face today. Over the years, I have enjoyed many opportunities to connect with several prominent farming associations. It was definitely time well spent, as the discussion helped me better connect with the industry’s realities.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.” Like many Ontarians, I have long recognized farmers as unsung heroes of our society. Farmers are recognized for their toughness and determination to put food on our tables, no matter what conditions Mother Nature or the economy throws at them. Farmers have a long-standing, well-earned reputation for being creative, resilient, and strong guardians of the land that feeds the world.

But you know what? When you are a fourth or even fifth generation of a farm family legacy, the pressure to appear successful, stoic and robust can be daunting. After all, farming is more than an occupation. For many, it is a heritage. It’s expected of you. When you know your parents and generations even before them have handed down a successful, sustainable, productive farm to you, there is tremendous pressure to thrive.

One issue that is of great concern to Ontario farmers is vanishing farms. Ontario’s productive farmland is a scarce resource, making up less than five percent of all the land in the province. The CBC reported that census data shows that, in Ontario alone, a whopping 319 acres of good farmland vanishes daily for urban development. Think about that. That means 2,233 acres of good arable land are lost forever, week after week. Land that helps to feed a world population of over 8 billion people. The loss statistics do not include the totals of other provinces or nations. And when a farm vanishes, so does a farm family, maybe even a proud legacy.

Another stressor for farmers is that they are subject to high rates of accidents on public roads and highways. Every year, Ontario sees more cars on the road as the population grows, and more people commute further and further to get to work or school each day as our cities expand. Government statistics show that slow-moving farm vehicles are up to nearly five times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision per kilometre of roadway than any other type of motor vehicle. I would not like those odds if it were me.

Ontario Provincial Police statistics show farm vehicle accidents are primarily the result of rollovers, which occur while entering, exiting, or crossing roadways or veering off the shoulder. These high accident rates are of genuine concern for farmers. If they are hurt or killed, who will be left to care for the farm and feed the family? More stress on the farmer and the family.

These are just a few examples of newer stresses that have been accumulating in addition to those of the past. And the list certainly doesn’t stop there.
There are many more concerns than there were one or two generations ago. Noticeable climate and environmental changes and newer stresses - ones that individual farmers have no control over. There are more droughts, more floods, and less snow accumulation than generations ago.

CBC News report dated Nov. 1, 2023, stated, “The nature of agriculture is risky and leaves the livelihoods of farmers vulnerable, either to the weather or whims of market forces beyond their control. Consecutive years of poor crop yields, livestock epidemics or unexpected equipment breakdowns can deliver unexpected financial blows that leave many feeling trapped.”

Mental stress for farmers and their families has been rampantly increasing. Yet, it seems to go almost unnoticed in our society. It seems that we just expect that no matter what punch in the gut farm families receive, at the end of the day, they will be standing on their own two feet just as they have always done. This is partially because farm families are not on our doorstep. Unlike urban areas, where we might hear and see evidence of nearby families suffering due to mental stresses, people in rural areas may not even be able to see their next-door neighbour. They live in smaller rural communities, kind of out of sight and out of mind.
Despite all of the improvements through education and dialogue, a stigma remains on mental illness. Unfortunately, farming is one of those lifestyles that is almost impossible to grasp unless you wear those boots. Of course, there are age-old worries about suitable weather conditions, crop and animal disease and commodity prices when it comes to harvest. Then, of course, they have to be concerned with government-regulated quotas, tariffs and trade issues.

In recent years, many studies have been conducted, revealing shocking statistics. One such study by the University of Guelph, well known for its agricultural studies and programs, conducted a poll of 1,000 farmers across Canada and found that “57 per cent met the criteria for anxiety, 34 per cent for depression, and 62 per cent experienced psychological distress.”

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture has reported that before the pandemic, one in eight farmers said they didn’t know if life was worth living anymore. That number has skyrocketed to one in four farmers expressing the same views. Imagine! Do you think that if you polled your friends and neighbours in more urban areas, one in four would question if their lives were worth living? I highly doubt that would be the case.

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