Thank you for your welcome this morning.
First of all, I'm going to talk about our organization's beginnings and explain why it exists.
Au coeur des familles agricoles is an organization that has been in existence since 2003. It was created by people in the agricultural sector, who, in the early 2000s, observed an increase in distress among agricultural producers. They saw that those producers were not seeking help from the health care system. When they did so, unfortunately, they saw that the health care network was not tailored to the reality of those in the world of agriculture.
The specific nature of Au coeur des familles agricoles as an organization is based on the street worker model, but it is tailored to the agricultural sector. We established a “field worker” service, which provides proactive and preventative responses. We don't wait for producers to seek out our assistance. We travel to see people on the farm. This is what distinguishes our services from those offered by the Quebec health care network.
We also do what we call “milk runs”, like a truck driver who goes from door to door picking up milk on farms. Our field workers travel and randomly visit farms to meet producers, talk to them and find out how they are doing in terms of their mental health, but mainly to raise awareness about our organization and our services.
Our field workers provide psychosocial support, within the limits of their knowledge and abilities. If the needs of the producers exceed our skills or our knowledge, we accompany them through the health system; we do not leave them to their own devices. We help them to find help. We are aware that, on their own, they would not take steps to find those services.
These workers have knowledge and hold either a bachelor's degree or a college diploma in social work. So they have the skills to work with an agricultural clientele. Another very important prerequisite for us as a determining factor in hiring an individual, is knowledge of the agricultural sector. The workers currently employed by the organization are all women. They have skills and knowledge that allow them to quickly build relationships with farmers. The relationship of trust grows quickly because the farmers know that the person standing in front of them understands their reality.
Our services are provided around the clock, seven days a week. We also offer a respite service. Our respite centre in Saint-Hyacinthe is able to welcome farmers from all across Quebec and to house those who have an urgent need for rest. While there, they meet with a worker on a daily basis for a week and can even come back, if their need is greater.
In 2017, we made 1,157 contacts with agricultural clients. The producers came to meet with us because the care offered by the health system did not match their needs. Because of our expertise and our knowledge of the agricultural sector, they came to us in order to avail themselves of our services.
Sixty-two per cent of the individuals who came to us seeking assistance were men. We start from the premise that men are already a difficult clientele to reach when the issue is a mental health problem. This demonstrates just how positive the approach we use with them is.
Essentially, we cover all types of production. This is perhaps more related to the announcement that was made yesterday, but I must tell you again that, over the past two years, most of the people who have called upon our assistance have come from the dairy sector. In fact, 72% of the requests for support that we have received have come from people in this sector. We provide our services in Quebec. We have established contacts in 11 administrative regions, but we have a presence in 7 regions.
In closing, I would like to tell you that 25% of our funding comes from grants. The rest of our funding comes from fundraising, donations and sponsorships that we receive from agricultural businesses, the businesses that work with farmers.
That concludes my presentation on the organization Au coeur des familles agricoles.
I'm a social worker. Since 2016, I have been a field worker with the organization called Au coeur des familles agricoles in the Chaudière-Appalaches region of Quebec.
This summer, a psychologist from the local community health centre contacted me about a person that he had been working with for quite some time. This lady was experiencing some difficulties. Given my expertise in agriculture, he asked for my assistance in working as a team to help her. Our meetings were mainly about my helping the woman buying her share from her parents.
In recent weeks, I received a letter from her that I would like to read:
“It's over for me, Nancy, I'm giving up on life. Nothing's keeping me here on Earth. Everyone I love is constantly abandoning me. My plan is gradually taking shape. I will be alone this weekend, no [Charlie], no one with me. It will be the perfect time to leave, to quietly fall asleep and never wake up. So don't go running to my parents, I don't want to hear from them. They are the reason I have been in such a state for so many weeks. [Sylvain] is going hunting for all of next week. He has a lot of other things on his mind than me. My latest has taken off; he said all kinds of fine words, then threw me in the garbage like a piece of trash. [Stéphanie] is far too busy to realize that I'm not doing well. It's now or never, if I want to do anything about it. Every time I take a step in hat direction, something always comes up. But this time, it's over. I'm at the end of my rope and I have no way out. I have no strength left to fight. At least, you have your family to help you, to support you and to love you. I am just a bad mother who's having a hard time taking care of her daughter. I'm always there when others need me, yet, as always, no one takes the time to listen to my calls for help. By the end of the week, there will be no more [Cindy], everyone will be rid of me.”
I received this email at 7:45 in the morning. I must say that I was pretty shaken by this letter. I quickly grabbed my phone and called the author of the email directly to tell her I was there, that I was there for her, and that I was very concerned after reading this letter.
Why did this woman choose me? A psychologist had been helping her for just over a year, while I have only been in the picture for a few weeks.
As I said just now when I began, it was because of my expertise in agriculture. As you gathered, when I introduced myself, I said that I was a former dairy farmer. The fact that I am a former dairy farmer, allowed me to establish a strong bond with the person who came to meet me.
What did I do? I called her. Fifteen minutes later, I realized that her daughter was standing behind her. I asked her if her daughter was going to daycare that morning. She said yes. I asked her why she wouldn't drive her to school and then we could talk again afterwards. She said that was a very good idea.
In that time, I quickly contacted the psychologist. We had already been communicating because, in the last few weeks, the lady had given us permission to work together for her well-being.
The psychologist was surprised. He told me that he had seen the lady the previous week and that she was doing very well. Actually, he added that he was even surprised to see how well she was doing. I asked him what we were going to do.
My role as a field worker really allowed me to stay in touch with everything in the agricultural field, while the psychologist took care of finding a shelter for the woman for the weekend. As a result, someone from the Urgence-Détresse hotline called her to see if she could come to the crisis centre over the weekend.
Our common aim was to reduce the stressors that this woman was experiencing. For my part, I called her employer, a local dairy farmer, to let him know that the mental health of his employee had deteriorated considerably in recent days. I also called her parents to inform them about their daughter's mental health. Logically, her parents should have been aware of the situation, but in this case, they were not.
I didn't mention that, for several weeks, this woman had been experiencing financial difficulties, a separation, a mental health problem in addition to a family dispute, which is related to the succession, as you can well imagine.
The only good news in this letter was that it was Tuesday morning at the time and the woman was planning to carry out her plan on Friday.
So that gave us time to put a safety net in place so that the lady would have good support.
As I said, my work is really with the agriculture. I did not interfere with the work the psychologist was doing. The psychologist, though, called the woman towards the end of the morning. I called her at 10 a.m. and he did so at 11:30. He made an appointment with her for the next day, and we stayed in touch by email. So there is one intervention among the many I have done.
A little later, if I have a bit of time left, I will talk about the milk runs and what they mean. We don't wait for people to reach out for help. I just show up on the farms, I introduce myself and I explain the mission of our organization. Then I take a look at the people there. These types of meetings often don't last longer than five minutes, but they can run to 15 or 20 minutes, and in some cases, I'll spend the entire morning on site, if I came at a good time and the person really needed to talk.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before you.
I am speaking to you as a farmer's daughter, a farmer's sister and a farmer's wife, but also as a specialized psychologist who, for over 20 years, has been working with farming businesses. So today I will present two aspects of the situation.
I will be talking to you about a new threat that is coming on top of all the stressors we are already familiar with, and I will talk about our urgent need to train support workers.
On top of all of the stressors in farming which you are probably familiar with, I would like to draw your attention today to a growing threat; it is coming from animal rights activists. In 2010, Benoît Gagnon, a doctoral candidate at the École de criminologie at the Université de Montréal was already saying that animal rights activists represented a terrorist threat. That's a bit how the movement is being described. It's not new, but it could become increasingly significant. Some authors believe that it is the next great revolution.
Who are these animal rights activists? You will see why it is so important to talk about them. First and foremost, they are vegans, though not all vegans are activists. They believe in antispecism, that is, the idea that animals are equal to humans. They want the use of animals in any way to be completely abolished. So, of course, they are against agricultural production that enables the consumption of meat and meat products, and they are against the idea of owning animals as pets. They agitate to shut down packing plants. This is very important and we must be concerned with the growing strength of this movement because we know that more and more millennials are vegans. That said, I repeat that not all vegans are animal rights activists.
In addition, because of the power of social media today, a single video going viral can inflict a great deal of damage on an entire industry. People are also increasingly concerned about animal welfare, health and the environment, which in itself is all well and good. That said, there are far fewer farms today, which means that fewer and fewer people understand what the farming is all about.
Whom do these animal rights activists target? Of course, the first ones in their sights are the producers. Today, as well as being called polluters, they are accused of being aggressors and rapists, because of artificial insemination, and child kidnappers and killers. You know, those words have extremely serious consequences. As one farmer told me, when he gets up in the morning and he sees that type of thing on Facebook, he's already wondering how he is going to cope. It adds a lot of stress and distress. I must point out that psychological distress is very prevalent among Canadian farmers, as several studies have shown.
Producers, artificial inseminators, those who ship animals, veterinarians too, packing plant staff, butchers, everyone in the agri-food business, that is, are affected by the animal rights people. The consequence is that our producers are increasingly subject to psychological violence, harassment and online bullying. That can increase the conflicts and, of course, the distress. A number of experts say that a major source of stress is developing and developing rapidly. So I wanted to draw your attention to this new threat, one that is adding to a major source of distress that already exists.
My second point is about what we need. We need more and more responders. Mr. Beaureard and Ms. Langevin said just now that some factors are unique to agricultural producers. We must not respond in the same way with men, with family businesses, and with our unique system, and we do not have enough people trained in the area. We also do not have enough psychologists who fully understand the realities of agriculture. We must therefore train more psychologists both in private clinics and in the health care system. We also need more front-line workers. We have to help and support them more, and continue to train them.
We certainly also have to train entrepreneurs in agriculture at the basic level, to get ahead of the game, to allow them to develop greater entrepreneurial skills, to better manage stress, change, and the work-life balance. Basically, we have to develop leadership skills so that they can face the issues and challenges of today and tomorrow.
Agriculture is getting more complex everyday, they say. In order to be able to face tomorrow's challenges, we need a high degree of entrepreneurial skill. So we have to help our agricultural entrepreneurs before the situation gets worse. To prevent them from sinking into distress, we have to be able to put initiatives in place so that they are better able to face the problems. In agriculture, the distress level is high and it directly affects the entrepreneurs, their families, and the agricultural economy.
There is only one conclusion. We have to invest for and with our agricultural producers, because leaders in better health will help to improve the health of our agricultural industry and our society.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I will try to split my time. I know Mr. Motz has a question.
First of all, though, I would like to speak with Pierrette Desrosiers.
The things you talked about are exactly the key issues in agriculture. I have said for years that the issues we have with, as I believe you indicated, animal rights activists and other groups and organizations that look at.... I'm a grain farmer, so they look at other non-tariff trade barriers and issues—such as GMOs, neonicotinoids, trace elements—and all of these sorts of things that are done to protect other people's investments. When farmers look at these things, they understand what is happening. There is a discord between agriculture and those who live in urban centres.
Another aspect—and I believe this is a point for other guests as well—is the fact that the farm is your workplace and the workplace is your farm, and the massive investments you have are always in jeopardy.
Then we have all of these different groups who just don't care. I look at the A&W ad that talks about no added hormones, where you go from five nanograms of estrogen to seven, if it is used, while the bun would have thousands of nanograms. These things are frustrating and they are done simply for market share.
I wonder if you could comment on that, and then I will give the rest of my time to Mr. Motz.
Thank you to the panel for being here.
My riding is made up of a mostly rural agriculture area—30,000 square kilometres. My heritage is also in agriculture. I still farm and ranch, so I have a deep appreciation for the impact and importance of farming to our economy, but also for Canadians in the production of good food.
I know from people in my riding that stress and anxiety went up last summer when they heard from the current government and were labelled as tax cheats. The government was looking at ways to get more from them—taking money out of their pockets—making it more difficult for them to pass their farms on to their next generation.
In my area, the language that was used in accusing people of that caused anger and frustration, and it really showed a disconnect between our agriculture community and the current government.
Does that kind of language create problems for those who are struggling already? That would be one question.
The other one would be, did you observe any impacts on the farming community that you interact with on the policies that were brought out, or the messaging that was used, that would impact them even more, or did they just internalize the attacks that they received?
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
I want to extend a special greeting to the representatives of Au coeur des familles agricoles from Saint-Hyacinthe, near my riding. A special hello to Mr. Beauregard, who was very humble during his presentation. In fact, in addition to being the director general of that organization, he is the mayor of Saint-Joachim-de-Shefford, a rural municipality in my riding. He is also a former farmer, so he really knows what he is talking about.
First, I want to thank you for your excellent work, Ms. Langevin and Mr. Beauregard. Your organization is a model, and we would like to replicate it, because it provides significant respite and support for farmers in our region. So we are lucky to have you with us. My sincere thanks.
Several studies have been done in the United States and Canada; they found that farmers were twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues than the general population. Mr. Beauregard and Ms. Langevin, could you talk to us about the anxiety and stress you see in your work, and tell us the top three or four causes?
I will answer that question.
Actually, it is what Mr. Beauregard was talking about. Often their frustration has built up over time. Since we are talking about dairy producers, let me remind you that they experience the same problems as the rest of us: separations, deaths, accidents. I do not know whether you saw the news last week, but two individuals died after falling into a silo. That kind of situation causes stress too. Furthermore, these days, the issue of supply management is adding to the frustration and stress already being felt by dairy producers.
Market forces constantly push them to increase their company's efficiency and profitability, and producers are starting to crumble under this ever-present demand. The message they are hearing is that they must get bigger and bigger to become more efficient. However, they are not prepared to sacrifice the family farm they have cherished all those years.
What you're asking is whether the percentage corresponds to the number of dairy farmers in the province. That is not necessarily the case. We are talking about 72% of the 1,157 requests for help we responded to, not 72% of Quebec dairy farmers. That is an important nuance.
The numbers reflect the help that we have been giving over the past two years. The numbers that I gave you are from 2017, when we responded to 1,157 requests. By the end of August 2018, we had already responded to close to 1,000 requests, and there are still four months left in the year.
Those who come to get help are mainly dairy farmers. As I explained earlier, that was not the case in the past. In the past, we were helping a lot of beef and pork producers. Suppose there are 5,000 dairy farmers. We did not provide assistance to 72% of them. Rather, 72% of the total number of requests for help that we received, 1,157, were from dairy farmers.
Yes, I agree. I think it's shameful that our system is having to pay for another jurisdiction's overproduction problems, and I know it's the same for the dairy farmers in my region and all supply-managed farmers. The system has allowed them to set a long-term plan to make those investments, and they are told one thing, but then something completely different happens, so I can very much empathize with that.
I want to move on.
In our last committee meeting, we had some fascinating testimony from Dr. Jones-Bitton from the University of Guelph. She talked about a bell curve showing the different kinds of stresses: green stress, amber stress and red stress. If you operate too much in the red stress zone, you get feelings of being overwhelmed, of loss, of hopelessness. There's good stress and bad stress.
She offered three recommendations. One of them was to support evidence-based training programs for agriculture. In your opinion, what would this entail and how do you think the federal government specifically is best suited to deliver them, given that we ultimately want to produce recommendations for them?
I know it's a big question. You can both take a crack at it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Beauregard, Ms. Langevin and Ms. Desrosiers, thank you for the work that you do.
I am not a young farmer, but some of my friends are. We do not have these services in our area yet, but I tip my hat to you. I was once in the right place at the right time. I'm not sure whether the person was suicidal, but she was definitely in distress. I imagine, Ms. Langevin, that this is what you experience every day with farmers.
Mr. Beauregard, you mentioned situations where farms are run by a father and son or a father and daughter. In my family, my father and grandfather sat on the same town council and they did not always see eye to eye. My grandmother always told them that they were not allowed to talk politics at the dinner table at home. However, farmers have a completely different reality since the whole family works on the farm.
How do you manage these crises? I imagine that there are sometimes family arguments and that they cause stress.
It is still hard for me to understand because it seems as though a connection is made very quickly. I don't need to start talking about farming for people to feel as though I understand them. That happens automatically. They also don't need to tell me very much for me to understand them.
Earlier, we gave the example of a farmer who goes to the doctor and is prescribed a month of rest. I do not do that when people come to my office because, if I did, I would lose them right away. Instead, I suggest that they take two hours out of the 90 hours of work they do a week to take care of their mental health. Over time, they realize that two hours a week isn't enough. They do the calculations, because they are used to doing that sort of thing, and realize that they are only taking about 15 minutes day. They hardly have time to begin thinking about their mental health before that time is up. It is not enough.
I would therefore never recommend that someone take a week of holidays because, as Mr. Beauregard was saying, it would only serve to increase that individual's stress. If I were to recommend that to farmers, they would would wonder how they could do that, who would look after their animals and who would look after their farm while they were away. Instead, as I just explained, I make recommendations to help them try to find a balance. I once helped a farmer who was working 60 hours a week. He ended up cutting his work week by 30 hours himself. However, if I had told him to do that, I would have lost him.
As I was saying earlier, the best way to encourage farmers to get help is to make them understand that getting help is not a bad thing. There could be a program to encourage farmers to get help from the health care system when possible but also from workers who are there for them, such as those at Au coeur des familles agricoles or other organizations in other parts of the country. I think that is important.
For the past two years, Quebec's agricultural producers' union, UPA, has been talking a lot about farmers' psychological distress and trying to find solutions. That means that the people who come looking for help are less and less ashamed to do so. Instead, they are seeing it as a positive thing.
The federal government would do well to look at what could be done to further encourage farmers to get help. It could offer farmers in other provinces services similar to the ones we offer. I have seen the positive impact that our work has had in Quebec. We do not have workers in every region, but we should, because there are agricultural communities everywhere.
Year after year, we struggle to find funding so that our organization can continue its operations and continue to grow. In the past, we wanted to expand our services to offer them in every region. Now, people in various regions are calling us. They are aware of their difficulties and are unable to find the proper resources to respond to those needs in their communities.
What can we do to meet those needs? Should the government create a financial support program for workers who take training specifically designed to help farmers? That is what is being done in Quebec. Suicide sentinels have been trained in co-operation with the UPA and the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide so that there is a program designed especially for farmers. The government could implement support services, similar to the ones we have, for farmers across the county.
With us today, we have, as an individual farmer, Mr. Sean Stanford. Thank you for being here, Mr. Stanford.
We also have, from LPG Farms, Mehgin Reynolds, Owner-Operator. Welcome.
We have been informed that Mr. Stéphane Bisaillon will probably be late. We will assign him his seat when he arrives.
To start, Mr. Stanford, you can present your opening statement for up to six minutes. Thank you.
Hi, everybody. My name is Sean Stanford. I'm a 34-year-old grain farmer from southern Alberta. I farm there with my wife and our two young children.
I'd like to begin by telling you that I'm not weak and I'm not any less of a man; I'm just a little sick. I suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was diagnosed nearly two years ago and have been on multiple medications and seen multiple therapists to help me with my conditions.
While I may not be different from many Canadians, the industry that I work in makes these conditions a bit harder to deal with. There are actually many extra challenges that farmers and producers have to deal with that the general population does not.
Farming is one of the few occupations that are highly dependent on weather. As you're well aware, no one can control the weather. I can tell you it is quite stressful to know that the biggest factor in your paycheque for the year is out of your hands. There are many farmers back home who have not finished harvest yet, and it is covered with snow. After a very, very dry summer and now a wet fall, emotions are running quite high.
Farmers also spend many hours and days isolated on their land. I myself have gone days on end without seeing another person for the entire day. This gives your mind too much time to play tricks on you. It gives you too much time to second-guess yourself and think about whether or not you're making the right decisions for your business. It does not give you an opportunity to think about what's actually happening in the real world back home. You can get lonely out there and miss your family. Isolation also means less access to professional help such as doctors, counsellors and psychologists. All three of these professions are integral to the proper recovery of someone suffering from mental health conditions.
Experts say that multiple elements are required to keep a person healthy. Included in those are proper exercise, nutrition, relaxation time and sleep. I can personally tell you that it is nearly impossible to get all these elements in as a farmer during the busy season. Working 100 hours or more per week is not abnormal. Having a meal that does not come out of a lunch box is also uncommon. Have you ever tried to do jumping jacks in a tractor? It's not that easy.
Here are the big questions: what resources are available, and what is missing?
Rural Canada has been shrinking. Our local hospital and doctor's office closed up many years ago. For any counselling or therapy, I need to travel about 30 miles. I know that it's a lot longer and further for many others. Then to actually get an appointment with some of these professionals, the wait can be many weeks. This is unacceptable. The cost of these services is also quite high. We need better and cheaper access to these health professionals.
I had my first interaction with the counsellor through my local fire department. I have volunteered there for 14 years, and that's where my PTSD stems from. When I asked my fire chief to find me some help, there was already a set of resources lined up to help me. Emergency services seem to have the proper channels in place already. As far as I know, there are no dedicated resources like these in place for farmers and agricultural producers.
Many of the medications used to treat anxiety and depression can be quite expensive as well. Thankfully, I am able to afford Blue Cross coverage for my family, but this does not cover some of the medications required or prescribed. These medications need to be more affordable for everybody.
I have learned a lot and made many connections using social media and the Internet. Twitter has been a huge help for me to find many resources, links and friends to help me through the tough times. Proper cellular service in rural Canada is essential for this reason. Contact with the outside world when you're isolated is more possible, so the use of smart phones and mobile Internet has been a huge help for me.
What else are we missing? What else haven't we thought of yet? Special conditions for ag producers may call for special solutions. Maybe a mental health app of some kind for smart phones to help diagnose issues or provide ideas to help out during rough periods would be useful. Perhaps teleconferencing or video conferencing with a therapist may help. Trying to stomp out the stigma of having a mental health condition is a huge hurdle to overcome, especially in agriculture.
Many people, including me, feel like mental health issues should be something individuals should be able to handle themselves. Some producers have tried to beat down these walls of stigma and have faced a barrage of bullying and personal attacks for it, myself included. We need to come up with a way to tell people they are also sick and need proper treatment. It's no different from having a cold or a cut on your hand. We need to end the stigma.
I hope this has given you some insight into my personal thoughts on mental health issues in agriculture. Thank you for having me here today.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and had an 11-year career in the film industry before meeting my husband and moving to rural Saskatchewan. There, I became a grain farmer. It didn't take me long to figure out how challenging, stressful and isolating farming can be.
While 2016 may have been my fourth crop year, it was the first time I stood and watched while my crop, worth literally hundreds of thousands of dollars, was destroyed in a 10-minute hail storm. It was also the first time in my life that I felt like a complete failure—a failure as a farmer, a failure as a spouse and a failure as a provider for my family. It was the first time, and sadly not the last, that I felt my only worth to my family was in my life insurance policy.
I would love to sit here in front of you all today and say that things are better and that I'm the only one in Canadian agriculture who has ever felt this way. To do so would be a lie. We are now struggling for our third year in a row. Weather extremes sabotage our ability to grow the bushels we need to make a profit. Commodity prices do not come close to covering our expenses. Transportation issues inhibit our ability to pay our bills on time. I no longer know what it feels like to live without stress. My husband now struggles with anxiety triggered by the stress of trying to farm and make ends meet. I have watched this anxiety bring him sobbing to his knees.
If you ask me in this moment if I hope my girls grow up wanting to take over our fourth-generation farm, I would tell you that I would encourage them to do anything but become farmers. However, the stark reality is that if we continue down this path, there will not be a farm for them to take over one day.
Right now I'm sure you're thinking that we must be bad farmers and that there must be something wrong with our business plan. After all, the point of a business is balancing risk while trying to make a profit. Do you know that grain farmers in Canada have the second-highest cost of inputs? That is the seed, seed treatment, fertilizer and chemicals we need to grow our crops. We also cannot come close to growing the bushels that other countries grow, thanks to our short growing season and dry climate. On an average year, the bushels I am able to produce on my fields do not cover my expenses, including my mortgage and land rent.
I need to work off-farm, not only to put food on my family's table but to also subsidize my farm expenses. If I worked as a teacher, nurse or banker, or if I were still working in the film industry, I would not be required to hold a second job to afford to do my first.
You see, I cannot raise the price I sell my crops for in order to help cover the rising expenses associated with growing my crops. When I need to move grain to pay bills, I try to find the best contract possible, but ultimately I have very little control over the price. I'm usually forced to sell at a time when prices are low from harvest pressure in order to cover bills that have been accumulating over the year. If a carbon tax is forced upon me, I stand to add an additional $30,000 to my expense list as well.
In February, I sat in a room full of 400 producers. We were tasked with standing up when a question asked applied to us. The first question was, “Have you ever lost a family member or friend to suicide?” Ninety per cent of the room stood up, and that broke my heart.
Farmers are struggling, not only in Canada but globally. We're struggling with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. We cannot speak out or admit we are struggling because we are told to be strong. We are told to suck it up. We are told that we are not real farmers if we ask for help. If we seek treatment, we might be turned down for life insurance policies or watch our premiums skyrocket. Life insurance companies classify us as higher risk when we take care of our ourselves and seek help.
We run on three to five hours of sleep during the busy seasons—that is, seeding and harvest—and go for weeks without seeing much of our families and children. We spend 15-plus hours a day in equipment cabs by ourselves.
In isolation, we are running the numbers, worrying about our bills and getting further into our own heads. Sometimes we have our children with us as well. We have to juggle farming because we don't have access to child care. Often we are also volunteers in our communities as first responders who deal with being on scene for accidents and with the deaths of our friends and community members.
This summer, a friend posted that a farmer in her community had just died from suicide. I did not know the person, but I broke down sobbing at my kitchen table. When I took a moment to reflect on why the death of someone I did not know upset me so much, I was forced to bring light to a fear that I do not want to dwell on: the fear that surges up when I cannot get ahold of my husband. It is the fear that, just possibly, he has given in to the non-stop stress and anxiety of trying to provide for our family and farm.
The conversation is starting to change. Producers are starting to open up, but it is only a start. The stigma surrounding mental health in agriculture is still strong. We need support from each other, support from our communities, and we need services from our health care systems. Most importantly, we need to be able to afford to farm without having to work off the farm.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate the opportunity to be here to talk with you today.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our guests.
I, too, farm. Right now we have 80% of our crop under snow. It's going to cover just a little bit of the basic expenses that we would have to pay for this month, but it won't be there for the rest of the year. I know exactly where you're coming from in so many different ways.
Quite frankly, people don't understand the significance of what it's like. You have to get on a $300,000 piece of equipment. You're stressed. You're getting three or four hours of sleep a day, so you're working 18-hour days. People don't seem to recognize what that is like.
We've had studies going on that say, “Look, this is the average income of a farmer; this is the money that they have coming in.” They don't understand the investment. They don't understand just how significant that is.
Mr. Stanford, you spoke about some of the types of bullying and other issues, and the frustrations you have from that. What we're going to try to do here is come up with solutions. Perhaps you could expand a little bit on some of those stresses that you see from people who aren't prepared to move forward or who don't understand the need to move forward.
Yes. Right now most Canadians are removed at least three generations from the family farm. There is a huge disconnect there. I was one of them.
We need something that is national. Right now we have Agriculture in the Classroom in Saskatchewan. Alberta tries to do the same program. Nothing is coordinated. What I've really noticed recently is that there is a breakdown in the trust between the consumer, the farmer, the companies we buy our products from and Health Canada. The whole glyphosate case happened in the States. I joined that conversation and I was cheering, “Look, Health Canada reviewed it in 2017”—people don't trust that. They don't trust the regulatory bodies reviewing these issues.
We need to find a way to do education in the classrooms nationally, because we know that the best way to influence people my age or older is through their children or grandchildren bringing this information home. We need to do something nationally. We can maybe work with Health Canada to do that, to create something that fits the curriculum so that it's easy for the teacher, because it needs to be easy for the teacher, as you know. We can try to repair the trust on two sides, with the farmer and also with the government and Health Canada.
Like Sean said, we can't control the weather. What we can control are our inputs, and that costs us a lot.
We need to go in being completely positive that even if we start out in a drought, it's going to turn around. If we treat that crop as it's growing with the herbicides and the fungicides and insecticides to kill the weeds so there's no competition, then we get that weather and suddenly we have a crop. If we haven't taken care of it to that point, we're not going to have a great crop.
We put those those inputs in with the hope that we're going to get the weather we need, and chances are we don't. This year, I had two and a half inches of rain. It was a drought year, not a great crop year. You spend that hoping you'll get it back, and oftentimes you don't.
As Sean was saying, we need to think of rural Internet basically as the land line. The land line used to be the necessity. We made sure, federally, that there were land lines everywhere. There was a grant to ensure that this was in place. I think that's now how we have to approach rural Internet, not only for connectivity but also for our business. Farming is a business.
I want to echo my colleague's comment to both of you for having the courage to come before a parliamentary committee that is televised.
You made reference to the fact that there's still a lot of stigma within your community. Trust me: By the very fact of your being here today and speaking out, I know there are a lot of farmers out there who are saying that's exactly how they feel. This is how we get the conversation started.
There are other professions, notably in the military and first responders, who very much have a culture where it's man up and just deal with the problem. They are starting to shift, because they have seen the effect on their members and they cannot be effective in the job they do.
You know this as a first responder, a volunteer firefighter. I have friends who do the same thing. I'm from a rural community. Often, they are first on the scene for a motor vehicle accident, and it could very well be someone they know in the community.
I want to start by thanking you both for coming.
There are so many factors that are beyond a farmer's control.
One of the strengths we have, especially within government, is to try to mitigate things when they happen. When you go through a hailstorm and it wipes out your crop, when you look at the suite of business risk management programs currently on offer, are they adequate and are they doing the job? What improvements can we make to give farmers a safety net from which we know they can rebound?
Do you have any comments?
There are some programs.
Last year, when we had a bit of a drought year and we didn't have a great crop, I still didn't quite qualify to get paid out on crop insurance. The crop insurance program is something I've paid into every year. With some of our drought fields this year, it looks as though I will get paid out.
It seems as though the levels where some of these claims can be made are too wide, or it needs to be more in favour of the producers than it is to the insurance companies. It doesn't matter how you try to insure your crop; you could still be losing money on all the inputs you put in.
As Megz said, inputs are expensive, and you still won't get an insurance payout, so you're wondering why you're paying into this insurance program when you can't even break even when you have a poor year.
Mr. Stanford and Ms. Reynolds, thanks for sharing your story.
When we talk about stigma, I think the fact that you're sharing your story today is breaking those barriers.
I want to touch on social media. Maybe Mr. Stanford, because you're a fourth-generation farmer and you were there, you probably remember the days when social media was not there, I hope when you were helping your dad or your mom. How do you feel about the pressures of social media?
Mr. Dreeshen talked about animal activists being online and the pressures of society. When you're farming back home, you're isolated in some way, but at the same time you have the whole world putting this pressure on you. Talk to me about that. Has that impacted you at all?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to the witnesses for being here today. We appreciate the people on the ground appearing before the committee. It helps us more clearly understand the situation, find solutions and make recommendations to assist them in future.
We know that a farmer's work is solitary work. Farmers have their families and friends around them, but they don't always have colleagues or bosses to rely on. They are their own boss.
I don't know whether you were here when the first panel of witnesses appeared earlier. They included representatives of an organization that does preventive work using what they call field workers. These people, who are psychologists or social workers, make random visits to farmers to explain the services they can provide them.
Farmers don't always have time to consult someone when they don't feel well. Professionals go to the farmers, ask them questions and determine with them what services they can provide.
Do you have access to that kind of service? Would you be interested in having an organization provide those kinds of services in your province?