Original Published on Nov 16, 2022 at 08:41
By Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Despite stress being an ever-present issue within the workplace, some jobs like farming have to deal with it on a much more regular basis than others. As a follow-up to speaking in the House of Commons about the stress and mental health problems that farmers are facing, Martin Shields, MP for Bow River, outlined exactly what farmers have to deal with when running their business.
“When we talk about health, people often think of the specific health system that people may access,” said Shields. “Whether it’s your doctor, or maybe you need a hip replacement, or maybe an emergency surgery, but mental health in the sense of the ag sector is a critical and important piece that people often forget. Ag producers are involved in very large commercial operations. It takes a lot of money, and a lot of resources to be able to be ready to buy equipment, be able to plant a crop and harvest it. There are a lot of financial resources involved in agriculture.
It’s not just a small operation where combines can cost you $1 million, and fertilizer runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those things all have to be paid upfront to buy those things or borrow money for. When you look at that financial risk and then you’re depending on nature in the sense of the weather being predictable enough that you could get a crop back that you could get harvested — there’s a lot of stress in that.”
He also briefly discussed his work with a hotline and Shields talked about how farmers can get hit with surprise costs from the carbon tax when dealing with things such as irrigation, which is a very common farming practice in the prairies.
“Back when I was involved in the Palliser Health Region, we established a specific stress line for agriculture mental health for agriculture people to call and it was used. So, my point when I was talking about it in the House of Commons, I was talking about agriculture — the carbon tax is another piece that adds onto that. The carbon tax, when we talk about tripling it, the amount of cost it takes when you get into the irrigation sector — when you’re talking about electricity used — which there is no exemption for electricity generated by natural gas, there is no exemption for that cost as there would be for maybe other fuels. The rebate that you might get out of business expense for agricul- ture that is in place is part of one per cent — a small amount. So, the tripling of those costs, along with the carbon tax with irrigation — to run irrigation is huge, and when you triple it, what the ag producers are paying for agricultural electricity to run irrigation is huge now and it will be much more significant.”
Shields also discussed how the inconsistency of the market can contribute to farmers’ stress as they have to deal with yet another variable in their line of work.
“When you’re talking about the stress this is causing,” said Shields. “When people in the ag sector are looking at the future of their business operation, and how are they going to get that recovered because farmers are price takers. They just have to take the price for what they get for their product and the marketplace or products can be very volatile. Canola can go up and can go down, wheat can go up and can go down. Many of the products that they produce — it’s a very volatile market — yet their costs are just going up, they’re not being reduced. They’re getting more efficient to try and compensate for that, but they are price takers, so when the cost goes up, they can’t pass that cost on like another manufacturing producer could do. The carbon tax and the uncertainty is going higher and higher, and we’re talking about going up to $170. That gets very stressful on ag producers, especially when you’re talking in irrigation when the cost of electricity, the cost for irrigation is a significant cost. Thus the mental health strain.”
With technology making things a lot easier in efficiency, one could easily assume this merely has a beneficial effect for all industries. Unfortunately, this is not the case for individuals who are working in the agricultural industry as innovation, such as putting computers within combines and genetically modified crops, have hindered their ability to work and increase their overall costs.
“In recent years, farmers told me that the 2006 combine is the one that they most like to get a hold of because you can still repair and still get parts for it,” said Shields. “The rate to repair is an issue that we need to pay attention to because it makes it very challenging if something breaks in a component and the only way to repair it is to find an available technician to deal with it. That makes it very challenging for farmers who are ag producers who are used to being able to work a lot more with their equipment. That is an absolute challenge in cost, and it is discussed in the sense of the right to repair and we have talked and discussed that issue significantly.”
Following this, Shields then briefly touched upon the issue of cereal crops.
“When you talk about those things that increase the cost — when you’re talking about certified cereals — and not being able to use some of what you’ve grown to reseed the next year, again those cost increase. That all comes back to the ag producer who’s the price taker and they can’t pass along those costs for the product. It just adds to the stress and multiple things that are adding to the stress and the mental challenges to stay in the ag business.”
Despite these other factors, Shields ultimately concluded that the carbon tax should be the primary concern when trying to relieve the burden of stress that farmers are facing in their daily life.
“The carbon tax is government implemented and that’s a ripple effect because it adds on to everything. If you’re buying a piece of equipment, the carbon tax ripples to the cost of that. If you’re transporting your goods and the carbon tax ripples into the transportation of the goods. The carbon tax is a much broader piece in the sense of adding to everything. It adds to the right to repair because if the guy is dealing with fixing their equipment, there’s a carbon tax. It’s a broader thing when we’re talking about carbon tax because it’s everything. You as a consumer, the end-user — when you go to the grocery store with you is the carbon tax — it is now part of increasing the cost of groceries. That’s why I focus on the carbon tax. Are those other pieces out there in that specific sector creating more mental stress? Absolutely, and we need to work with those.”