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How can farmers adapt or change their behaviours to give them a better quality of life   -  Enquire »


How can farmers adapt or change their behaviours to give them a better quality of life?

Academic, athlete and hurling coach Dr Noel Richardson is on a mission to change farmers’ attitudes towards their health

Academic and coach, Dr Noel Richardson

He lost six uncles, and his father, in less than a decade.

All bar one were involved in farming.

One aunt, of a similar age, passed away during the same period.

After witnessing such high levels of familial male death, compared to women's death, over a short period of time, Dr Noel Richardson distinctly remembers thinking, "What's going on here? Why is it, on average, that men are dying at a much faster rate than women? What is it about their approach and attitude to health that is causing such differences? How can farmers adapt or change their behaviours to give them a better quality of life?"

Dr Richardson, a lecturer and director of the National Centre for Men's Health (NCMH) at IT Carlow, and former Irish international distance runner, has spent the last 10 years searching for answers.

"I basically asked questions. Men were never programmed to die five or six years younger than women. It's principally down to cultures and attitudes and approaches to health," he says.

Although Dr Richardson, originally from dairy farm in Ahane, Co Limerick, says our wider society has made tremendous progress in breaking the culture of silence associated with men's health, when it comes to farming, he contends that the evidence doesn't reflect the same results.

"There are a number of particular challenges. Studies show that the incidence of chronic disease, cardiovascular disease and cancers is much higher in farmers than the general population.

"Evidence also suggests that farmers have a disproportionate incidence of occupational injuries, lower-back problems and arthritis," he adds.

A recent study on health risks in farming, carried out by the NCMH and the Irish Heart Foundation, found that 80pc of farmers had four or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Dr Richardson, who spoke on the issue at last year's Teagasc National Dairy Conference, pointed out that the rate of cancer deaths among farmers is three times higher than other occupations, and 60pc of farmers who never smoked have developed chronic respiratory symptoms, while 56pc suffer from lower-back pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Admission rates to psychiatric hospitals were also higher for farmers than for any other occupation group.

The former physical trainer for the four-in-a-row Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling champions, between 2006 and 2009, believes obesity is the most significant health problem facing farmers.

He links the epidemic to dietary behaviours and farmers overestimating how much activity they do as part of their routine work.

"A big problem with farmers is lifestyle issues. The classic things like smoking, drinking, diet, obesity and not doing enough physical activity.

"Although farming has traditionally been seen as one of the more active occupations, the mechanisation, and growing influence of technology on farms, has removed a lot of the physical work.

"Obesity is the precursor to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, and it is associated with a lot of cancers as well."

Although cardiovascular diseases and cancers are more associated with older farmers, he is concerned that young farmers consider themselves impregnable to harm.

"Young men in their 20s and 30s think they are invincible. They don't see any dangers or risks and they don't equate their lifestyle in the 20s and 30s with the development of chronic diseases in their 40s and 50s - and this is something we really need to change." Speaking on a personal level, the father-of-four - who previously represented Ireland at international cross-country world championships - says he is very aware of the fear some farmers experience when faced with health problems.

The 51-year-old was suddenly, diagnosed with Parkinson's disease six years ago."It was a massive shock to the system initially," he says, "and I felt that my whole world was thrown upside down.

"When it came to my own doorstep, I didn't really know how to manage it, but in a way it has brought a greater empathy for me with all the men who are struggling with it," he says, praising the support of his family, consultant neurologist and GP, who look after him so well.

"Once I conquered the initial fear and anxiety of being diagnosed with a chronic disease at the age of 46, I learned to manage it. I'm doing really well and I'm really proud of the way I'm living a very productive life," he adds.

With the help of medication, Dr Richardson can still run 5km in 18 minutes. He runs every day.

He urges all farmers over 50 to have an annual health check. He also encourages farmers to attend Teagasc discussion groups on health.

"Farmers are intelligent, self- employed people - they know the importance of health for their livelihoods and income. If farmers support each other to make the right health and lifestyle decisions and to see their doctors regularly, that is an important step.

"It's never too late to change a health behaviour and to try to make up for something that you feel has been lost - it is never lost."

‘Farmers have a closer relationship with their vets than their doctors’

Farmers have a closer relationship with their vet than their doctor, says Dr Richardson.

He believes the farming community, and society at large, needs to challenge traditional masculine bravado — that “real men” don’t go to the doctor.

Dr Richardson, who lives in Kilkenny City,  explains how these “rubbish notions” have the potential to undermine men’s capacity to look after themselves in later life.

He also challenges the traditional role that women have played in male farmers’ health, in which women are seen as the caregivers, while men are the providers. He says men need to take greater ownership of their own health.

“The reality is that many farmers probably see their vet more frequently than they would their

own doctor in any given year,” he says. “If farmers would only think about that for a second and ask themselves, ‘What does that say about how much I am prioritising my animals’ health above my own health?’

“Cows can be replaced but farmers can’t, so it’s really important to see that as a critical relationship in your life.”

He says it’s important that farmers seek out a GP they can trust and have confidence in, so that it becomes second nature to make contact without thinking too much about it.

“If you ignore something, it is likely to cause a much, much bigger problem down the tracks. If it’s a cancer scare; if you’re passing blood in your stool;  if you felt a lump; if you notice a change in your skin; if there is a mole that changes over time, you could potentially be creating a much bigger problem.

“Early prevention and seeing your doctor is a critical thing for farmers.”

The Farming Independent.


Is your milking system ready for cold weather?   -  Enquire »

Milking Parlour

 This week parts of Ireland saw the first snow of winter and many dairy farmers may be wondering  if their milking systems are ready for the colder weather.

 The Department of Defence’s Be Winter Ready booklet has some good advice on preventing ice  forming on milking machines and what farmers should do long-term to prevent damage from  freezing weather.

 Daily maintenance

 Farmers are advised to complete the following checks when expecting cold weather:

  • Close doors to minimise heat loss between milkings.
  • Completely drain the milking machine. Complete drainage can be achieved by running the machine for longer when after final rinse, leaving machine open at the filter sock and opening drains at low points of the machine.
  • Circulate a saline solution after the final rinse as the salt will lower the freezing point of water. Care should be taken to rinse the machine before any subsequent milking.
  • Remove clusters from jet washers after cleaning and leave to hang freely.
  • If using a diaphragm pump in milking machine, consider opening lock nuts to drain it.


Winter checks

There are some practical steps farmers can take in advance of spells of cold weather to prevent damage to milking machines.

Where needed, the following alterations can be carried out at this time of year.

  • Ensure that water supplying pipes are either buried or sufficiently insulated to prevent freezing.
  • Guard open parlour entrances, or poorly fitting doors, using temporary plastic sheeting.
  • Consider investing in a thermostatically controlled heater for the plant room which can be set to switch on at a given temperature.

Long-term planning

Meanwhile, farmers should keep Ireland’s changeable weather in mind when improving infrastructure on the farm.

This advice holds true for the milking system too, so farmers should think about long-term cold protection:


  • Aim to ensure milking machines are easy to drain when designing them.
  • Use infra-red lights at strategic points on all liquid lines of the system.

Farmers must have assurances on subsidies and foreign labour, say peers  -  Enquire »

Defra must give farmers early reassurances about a farm subsidy regime and continued access to foreign labour after Brexit, say peers.

The impact of a Brexit on farmers was debated in the House of Lords on Thursday (21 July), almost four weeks after the EU referendum.

Conservative MP Baroness Anne McIntosh, of Pickering, called the debate amid increasing uncertainty about the effect that a Brexit would have on the UK’s food and farming industry.

John Montagu, the 11th Earl of Sandwich, who manages a small agricultural estate in Dorset with his wife, voted for the UK to remain in the EU.

Farmers and landowners were concerned that the UK government would not keep its promises to continue funding farming to the same extent post-Brexit, he said.

“Generally, I think there has been considerable dismay among farmers since Brexit simply because of the threat to their farm payments.

“The new secretary of state (Andrea Leadsom) will have to persuade the Chancellor that smaller farmers and hill farmers will not be able to carry on unless they are given stronger reassurances of support.

“Owen Paterson said at the recent Oxford Farming Conference that, ‘a sovereign UK government, no longer constrained by EU rules, could actually increase rural payments’.”

In 2013, UK farmers received €2.6bn (£2.17bn) under Pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and €637m (£532m) for agri-environment and rural development under Pillar 2.

The Earl asked: “How will the government ensure that British farmers continue to receive these payments? We have already heard that they may not.

“There are fears that direct payments will be significantly less under the new government because of the continuing need for austerity.”

TB trade barriers

The Earl said livestock farmers in the South West were worried about disease control and fears that trade barriers will be put up against TB, which “remains a scourge of West Country farmers”.

Meanwhile, the fluctuating milk price was a “continual source of grievance”. He highlighted a wide disparity between farmers supplying milk to supermarkets at 30p a pint and others sending milk to companies like Arla for processed milk products with a price “forever in the low 20s”.

Conservative peer Lord de Mauley said a Brexit was an opportunity to see if farming policy could be shaped to “do more for biodiversity”.

Maggie Jones, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Labour), warned that the UK government would prioritise funding the NHS and farmers would have to “get in line” and compete with powerful lobby group to “win back anything like the payments they have enjoyed up until now”.

“Currently, 55% of UK income from farming comes from CAP support. In 2014, the UK received over €3bn for CAP basic payments to farmers. It is not pessimistic but realistic to assume that these funds will not be protected in a post-Brexit UK budget.”

Single market access

But Baroness Jones said the real challenge for farming would be whether or not the UK could do a deal to remain in the single market, with its free access to 500 million customers.

“At the moment, 73% of the UK’s total agrifood exports are to other EU countries. Seven out of the top 10 countries to which we export food, drink and feed are in the EU.”

Meanwhile, Charles Hay, the 16th Earl of Kinnoull, said farmers needed clear assurances from government on future access to foreign seasonal labour at a similar cost to now.


Farmers Weekly 25 July 2016 Philip Case 

Scheme may make farmhouse flood insurance more affordable  -  Enquire »

Farmers in high-risk flood areas may be able to insure their farmhouses, supported by a new initiative designed to give people access to more affordable policies.

The Flood Re scheme is a joint government and insurance industry scheme which seeks to make insurance available and affordable for qualifying properties.

Sean McClarron, director of insurance broker McClarrons in Malton, said the scheme would be funded through a levy paid by insurers, which would absorb the hypothetical costs associated with properties in a flood-risk area.

This means a homeowner should be able to get affordable home insurance quotes from a range of companies, as the insurers will be able to pass the flood-risk element of the policy back to Flood Re.

Customers will continue to buy their home insurance in the same way as before, and all the contact will be directly with their chosen insurer.

If a customer needs to make a claim, Flood Re will work with the insurance company behind the scenes, to reimburse them for any payments they make relating to flooding.

“While the cost of the scheme is still covered by the insurer, this is minimal compared with large settlements as a result of flooding, or not being in a position to support homes and businesses in the first place because the risk is just too high,” said Mr McClarron.

Farm buildings exclusion

According to Flood Re, homes with a flood risk will probably have a higher premium than a property without being at risk of flooding. However it should stop situations where insurance prices and excesses become unaffordable.

The exclusion of commercial buildings from the scheme means that farm buildings will not be covered.

However, a spokesman from NFU Mutual said farmhouses in areas of high-flood risk could have the flood part of their policy transferred to Flood Re if they meet the basic eligibility criteria, which includes a domestic council tax band A to H (or equivalent) and the property being in the name of an individual rather than in the name of a company or partnership.

“As long as the property meets the eligibility criteria, the flood cover for a farmhouse could be transferred to Flood Re, even if the farmer uses part of the property as an office.

“Tenanted properties are not eligible for transfer to Flood Re unless the property is occupied by an immediate family member and it meets the basic eligibility criteria.”

- Farmers Weekly - Isabel Davies 10 April 2016

Insurance law change will increase burden on farmers  -  Enquire »

Farmers are facing tighter controls on business insurance as new legislation comes into force next month.

The changes, from 12 August, have been branded as the biggest shake-up in insurance law for more than a century.

Insurance experts are warning farmers that setting up policies will take far longer and could involve all staff across the farm.

The Insurance Act 2015 will enforce a duty of “fair presentation” requiring businesses to provide evidence that they have carried out a more rigorous and thorough assessment of risks.

This could include providing further evidence from third parties like accountants and other professionals the business works with.

Insurance Act 2015

Policyholders will have to ask anyone on the farm benefitting from cover whether they know any material information in relation to the risk.

There will be an explicit duty to ask questions of the whole business prior to renewal, not just senior staff.

All information will have to be presented clearly and accessibly to the insurer.

For example handing over data in an unstructured format will not meet the new standard.

The level of questioning and information gathering required to prepare for renewals may increase significantly.

Third parties such as accountants or IT providers may also need to be consulted over potential risks.

Anyone found to have deliberately withheld the full facts, faces having their policy being voided. In these cases, no claims will be met and there will be no refunds of any insurance premiums.

Famers face greater responsibility

Harrison and Hetherington (H&H) insurance brokers said farmers should be aware that there will be more responsibility on them to share all relevant information with their brokers.

Operations director at H&H, Paul Graham, said that understanding the implications of the new Act was complex and it was vital for all businesses to know what was required of them.

“It’s terribly important that farms and rural businesses better prepare their information.

“It is their responsibility to disclose the information and our responsibility to ask about the business, so expect to be asked more questions when applying for or renewing insurance.”

Although insurance contracts will still be based on good faith, the onus is now on customers to fairly present any risks to their brokers, Mr Graham said.

The information must be correct to the best of the customer’s knowledge, and there is also a requirement for customers to carry out a reasonable search for information to ensure they are presenting the full facts, he added.

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© Farm Solutions 2015. All Rights Reserved.