A fitness class for farmers in Canada in which Alison participated.

A fitness class for farmers in Canada in which Alison (pictured fifth from right) participated.

Alison Holmes rightly reminded us of the importance of personal resilience in farming, and that an unhealthy farmer is an unsustainable farmer.

Alison Holmes farms a mixed farming enterprise in the Slieve Bloom Mountains of Co. Laois in partnership with her father Brian. She studied physiotherapy and graduated from UCD in 2008 and now works as a physiotherapist and clinical tutor at St. Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny and is a PhD candidate at the University of Limerick. Her background made her a passionate advocate for farmer and rural population health and made her determined to utilise educational opportunities to improve farmer health and wellbeing. Alison was one of six 2019 Nuffield Ireland Scholars.

Nuffield afforded me the opportunity to research the topic of farmer health promotion and management in terms often used in farming, but rarely used about farmers’ health: sustainability, viability and resilience. I visited eleven countries across four continents, and had many conversations on home soil, to complete my report entitled “Are we Fit to Farm; Investigating Farmer Health Status and Sustainability”.

Nuffield Ireland and its industry sponsors provided the ideal platform for the development and dissemination of useful information and recommendations that I hope will positively impact current and future farming populations.

My recommendations included the prioritisation of farmers’ health status with funding for interventions overseen through national inter-departmental collaboration. I also advocated for specific health and fitness promotion initiatives within this population as well as the identification of further research needs in line with the objectives of the Farm Safety Action Plan and the Healthy Ireland policy.

Health literacy and self-management modules should be incorporated into all existing agriculture educational curriculum to enable culture and practice change. Finally, I proposed that a national steering group, comprised of all strategic partners and stakeholders, and a national researcher collaboration should be established to adopt a blended research and practical application focused approach to improving farmer health and wellbeing nationally.
My two year Nuffield Scholarship programme proved to be only the beginning of a life-long journey. I believe my topic is more relevant today given the impact of many global factors on the agricultural industry.

Farmers are rarely in a position to influence or control many of the external factors influencing their practices. However, their health, wellbeing and self-management practices are within their control and can positively influence their business and lifestyle.

For farming to prosper, the farmer has to prosper. Farmers have to manage and prioritise self-care to optimise not only their health, but the health and wellbeing of their enterprise also. My scholarship experience helped me in gaining recognition as an expert contributor, and led to invitions to participate and facilitate proactive initiatives, in collaboration with likeminded individuals and organisations, to address many of my report recommendations.

Two such collaborations have resulted in the awarding of EIP funding and the development of the FARMConnect pilot project due for completion in 2022 and the establishment of a working group to develop a National Farm Health Alliance. The latter was launched by way of an inaugural “Farm Health Alliance” webinar and education day earlier this year. Both of these initiatives have provided a platform and discussion forum that promotes reference to the sustainability of the farmer her/himself, farmer health and wellbeing, career longevity, adaptability and resilience, farming as an attractive career and the impact on public perception.

I feel that it is extremely pertinent to the industry that these topics continue to be addressed until best practice becomes common practice.

Read more about Alison’s Nuffield study topic and download her full report – click here