Living in a rural community can be isolating at the best of times. Many farmers already deal with long days working alone and uncertainty due to things like the weather, yield, prices, government policies and local and global markets. 

Dealing with unpredictability is part of life for many farmers, but nobody could have predicted the uncertainty of the pandemic and what that has meant for farmers professionally and emotionally too.

We spoke to Ali, a young farmer from a poultry and arable farm in Herefordshire, about her experience during this past year and the important role her local Young Farmers’ Club plays in her life. 

All about Ali

Ali is 26 and as well as supporting her family’s farming business, she also helps others promote theirs in her role as an account manager supporting a range of agricultural clients. 

Ali is also an active member of the Young Farmers’ Club in Herefordshire and before the pandemic, spent a lot of her time at events organised by her club and county. 

The importance of Young Farmers’ Club

’The pandemic has taught me the value in having a social outlet and connecting with others. Young Farmers’ Clubs are often a lifeline for those in agricultural communities. When you work a lot in isolation, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people, to make life-long friends and to develop a whole range of skills from public speaking, music, sports and even performing. There’s nothing else like it and it has supported generations of farmers including those in my own family.’

There are currently 598 Young Farmers’ Clubs across the UK, supporting thousands of young people from age 10 to 26, making them one of the largest rural youth organisations in the UK. The mental wellbeing of farmers is an important focus for this industry due to high levels of isolation, risk and stress. 

You can be having a tough time in another area in your life, but Young Farmers is always there to support you and develop you as a person by offering all these amazing opportunities to make friends and learn new things. Your whole week could be jam-packed with activities  and events if you wanted. You go to meet people but then end up coming out with so much more. I certainly have Young Farmers to thank for the variety of skills and experiences on my current CV!’

Much of its work before COVID was face to face. So when the pandemic hit and restrictions were put in place to prevent face to face gatherings, this affected young farmers everywhere.

’The sole purpose of Young Farmers’ Club is to get people together and when you can’t do that, it can make people feel even more isolated. I know for a lot of young farmers, there’s been a feeling of double isolation which has been difficult throughout the multiple lockdowns over the last year.’

Keeping connected

Ali described how like many organisations in lockdown, moving Young Farmers online was the only way to keep people connected. And while loads of activities and wellbeing sessions were available over video platforms, such as Zoom, which was really positive, it was sometimes difficult to feel connected in the same way.

’Internet connection sometimes isn’t great in rural areas and also, with everyone at home, talking as openly as you might in a face to face environment is a bit more difficult. After a long day at home during lockdown, logging on for a Young Farmers session didn’t always have the same appeal as before so I guess it was easy to lose momentum.’

Ali described her Young Farmers’ Club as a really tight-knit community. One where she has met life long friends that support each other. And while she hasn’t been able to stay in touch face to face, the friends she has met have been there for each other when it’s really mattered. 

‘My friendships are really well established. I have known these people for years. So if I was having a bad day over this past year, I could easily pick up the phone or send someone a message (which I did!). We all look out for each other. In face to face meet ups, it’s easier to pick up when someone isn’t okay. It’s not that easy online so I guess someone struggling could really slip under the radar.’

Taking care of your mental health and wellbeing is imperative, especially in the agricultural industry. Suicide rates in agricultural workers are among the highest in any occupational group, so the industry is constantly making changes to address this. 

Talking about mental health has become more normalised in agricultural training colleges, farming organisations and charities, as well as social media which is a huge positive. And the set back of the pandemic is something that it’s hoped can be addressed now restrictions are slowly starting to ease.

If you have struggled with isolation and limited social outlets, it can be useful to remember that face to face support and activities are likely to start up again as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Ali’s advice

My advice to any young farmers who have struggled this year is that this situation is not permanent. Think about all the amazing things you did before and can hopefully do again really soon. And even if you do feel isolated right now, there are people you can reach out to. I would also encourage anyone who feels unsure about renewing their Young Farmers membership to do so. Because we need to support those organisations that have done so much for our community during good times and bad.

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