QUEBEC CITY — Farmers are feeling increasingly under attack by the general public, according to new data, putting them in situations that add stress to their lives.
The University of Guelph qualitative study found a general theme of producers saying they face more public scrutiny, which in turn creates additional stress.
“There was a surprising number of people saying the public doesn’t understand farming, doesn’t know farming or doesn’t trust farming,” said Andria Jones Bitton, who worked on the study and is a researcher of farmer and vet mental health with the university.
“They mentioned the various attacks they are getting, which affects their dignity and honour,” she said.
Jones Bitton shared the findings from the study at the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s annual conference in Quebec City.
Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 75 farmers and agriculture professionals that mostly live in Ontario.
They extrapolated common themes from the interviews, finding public scrutiny was one topic that participants often discussed.
As well, they found that many producers were reporting they felt under attack more often when filling out their responses for the national survey on mental health.
“With added pressures from activist attacks on farmers, it can mean huge threats to animal health and welfare, biosecurity and to families living on those farms,” Jones Bitton said.
There have been more instances recently of protesters trespassing on to farms.
In Alberta, for example, protesters trespassed into a turkey barn, demanding the farmer give them some of the animals so they could take them to a sanctuary.
The farmer complied, but it caused a stir among the agriculture community. Producers said the protesters threatened animal welfare, biosecurity and the farmer’s sense of security and well-being.
In response, the provincial government introduced tougher fines and potential jail time for trespassers. The province is also considering new legislation to address the issue.
Jones Bitton said stricter laws can help stop protesters from trespassing onto farms and stealing animals, saying it’s no different than someone shop-lifting at a store. But farmers should also look to building bridges with the public, showing them that agriculture has high animal welfare standards, she added.
“We need to speak to people about the facts and get them onto farm events, so they can see first-hand that these animals are well cared for,” she said.
John McCart, president of the Quebec Farmers Association, said even if farmers are under more scrutiny, they need to educate the public.
He referenced an event where a farm didn’t cancel an event even though there was the threat of protesters showing up.
“The organizers of that event decided to be prepared,” he said, adding the protesters never did show up. “We have an obligation to show what we do to the public so they understand better. These events really help tell our story.”
Jones Bitton said researchers need to offer evidence-based programs that can help improve the mental health of farmers.