Agriculture has undergone major changes over the course of the last decades. Increasing mechanization and demands to produce food more effectively have resulted in decreasing farm numbers - and decreasing numbers of farmers. However, the surviving farms are considerably larger than before. Farmers have a physically demanding job, and their work environment can be dangerous, because of e.g. pesticides and large animals. Farming can also be a lonely job, as spouses and other family members now usually work outside the farm.
Farmers work closely with their animals every day. This leads to the development of a bond between humans and animals, which is important to both parties. The farmer also provides their livestock with access to recources the animals need, such as feed, water and an environment that promotes health and animal welfare. Consequently, the farmer is the single most important factor for good health and good animal welfare of livestock. If the health of the farmer is impaired, or if the work environment is not satisfactory, this may have an impact on the farmer's ability to do their job.
In FarmMERGE, we will investigate the connections between farmer health and work environment, and the health, welfare and production of their livestock. We will do this by merging databases that contain information on farmer health and work environment with farming industry databases, which contain information on livestock health, animal welfare and production. We will also investigate the current state of farmer health and work environment, compared to other occupational groups, as well as the historical development over the last four decades.
The results of the project can be used in HSE efforts within agriculture, to provide better counseling to farmers, and to provide farmers with health services that are better suited to their needs. The results can also be part of the foundation for the development of regulations and financial frameworks in agriculture.
The FarmMERGE project started in April 2021, and is thus currently in an early phase of the project. In 2021 we have recruited two PhD students. We have also applied for and received the required ethical approvals, and we have defined which variables we will use to measure the health and work environment of farmers. As of November 2021, we are in the process of applying for data from the relevant databases.
Stockmanship is the single most important influence on farm animal welfare, and if the functional ability of the farmer is impaired, this may have a profound effect on the welfare of their livestock. Still, little is known about the relationship between farmer health and welfare, and the health, welfare and productivity of their animals, and this is the relationship we want to explore. We will merge farmer data from a large, general population-based health survey with animal data from two major agricultural industry databases - a novel approach made possible by Norway's comprehensive registers as well as the possibility to merge different registers due to the unique 11-digit personal identification number. Both physical and mental health in farmers will be investigated, as well as both physical and psychosocial work environment. We will include both cattle (dairy and beef production), swine and sheep in the study. Furthermore, we will investigate the current health and work environment of farmers compared to other occupational groups, as well as historical development from the 1980s until today. The most critical R&D challenges relate to the data merging and the number of farmers in each production form.
The results will be useful for: 1) The agricultural industry and in agricultural HSE - to design, implement and justify resource spending on farmer outreach programs and continuing education, and to help justify to farmers why, with their busy schedules, they should make their own health a priority too, 2) The health care system, both general practitioners and in occupational medicine - to increase awareness and knowledge of the close connection between health and work in agriculture, 3) By government and public administration/authority - to guide legislation, inspections and other activities, as they relate to both work environment and animal health/welfare, 4) Animal welfare organizations - in their continuing work for improved animal welfare.
FFL-JA-Forskningsmidlene for jordbruk og matindustri