Comprehensive financial compensation for BC mink farmers being pushed out of business and growers displaced by the ongoing extreme weather across southwestern BC has yet to be announced, but in both cases the province has been quick to highlight mental health support for growers.
The province’s agriculture ministry even went so far as to say the province would curtail its reporting of flood losses out of respect for the impacts the updates could have on the outlook and well-being of farmers.
The high profile of mental wellness in government and on the ground is one of three trends affecting Canada’s food sector according to Len Kahn of Kahntact in Guelph, an affiliate of the Toronto-based agrifood communications firm Nourish Network.
Nourish released its annual food trends report last week, and called out mental health, the ongoing labour shortage and economic headwinds as three issues set to impact the farm sector in 2022.
While technology can be a solution to the labour shortage, it is also expensive. Rising interest rates on the financing needed to invest in technology threaten to raise the pressure on farmers, most of whom have limited ability to pass on these higher costs to buyers.
“Prices cannot be passed directly on to the consumer, so the farmer can get hit on both sides,” says Kahn. “Technology has made farming easier in the fiscal sense, but the overall pressures are much higher.”
Citing a University of Guelph study published in 2018, Kahn notes that 58% of farmers meet the diagnostic criteria for anxiety and a lower level of mental wellness.
“It has consequences for the industry as a whole,” he notes.
This is where government recognition of the problem during times of crisis can make a difference, says Kahn. In addition, the Do More Agriculture Foundation and Farm Credit Canada’s dedicated Wellness page all play a role.
“Talk about these things. Know that there’s help out there,” he says. “There’s no silver bullet for this; it’s more of an ongoing thing. But I do think the fact that it is rising up to the attention level of the industry is a positive.”