Deep down, farming families know that their health and mental wellbeing should be at the forefront of their business. Not only is it important for farmers and their family, but also workers and communities who depend on them to always be there.
The National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) Director and registered nurse, Professor Susan Brumby has found a certain ‘reluctance’ by many farming men and women to make appointments with health professionals, or to make sure their own health screenings are up to date. This has been particularly exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In short, farmers are not looking after themselves and delay seeking help until it becomes difficult to function well on farm.
This ‘reluctance’ makes the NCFH’s new initiative, Farmer HAT (Farmer Health Assessment Tool) an incredibly clever solution. It is an online tool where the only voice that farmers listen to is their own. Farmers can access it in their own time and in the privacy of their own home.
Farmer HAT has been developed to promote a safe farming culture and healthy personal behaviours. ‘The free online self-assessment tool is easy to use and only takes 10–15 minutes to complete, answering a series of questions about health, wellbeing, lifestyle behaviours and farm safety practices,’ said Susan.
‘Part of the tool includes entering clinical health information of blood pressure readings, blood glucose and cholesterol test results but users are able to complete the Farmer HAT without these. We recommend users attend an AgriClinic™ or visit their GP to obtain these numbers to gain a complete picture of their health.’
The Farmer HAT can be used to empower the user and track and benchmark assessment results over time. The NCFH recommends that Farmer HAT be completed at least annually to review the progress of the users’ health and wellbeing and hopes that the outcomes from Farmer HAT will be convincing enough for all farmers to seek an appointment with a medical professional and/or take action to improve their own health.
Thirty-six farming members of BestWool / BestLamb network in south-west Victoria recently put the Farmer HAT platform through its paces in December 2020.
Former BestWool / BestLamb group coordinator from Victoria, John Marriott says, ‘Being able to benchmark personal physical and mental health information, just as we benchmark financial parameters (cost of production, farm profit, change in net worth, etc.) or environmental issues (such as carbon sequestration) gives producers the ability to implement and see the impact these changes can make over time.
‘Using a traffic light system, the Farmer HAT provides easy to understand and visual feedback to users about the questions answered and includes relevant resources to improve personal behaviours and practices,’ says Susan. ‘It puts the farmer in the driving seat of their own health, wellbeing and safety – and in the privacy of their own home, tractor or paddock!’
Recognising that his role as coordinator is to challenge producers to see their health, wellbeing and safety as a core part of the success of their farming business, coordinator James Whale was happy to encourage his three BestWool / BestLamb groups to participate in the pilot test of the Farmer HAT.
Simon Close from the Balmoral BestWool / BestLamb group attended along with his father, two brothers and sister for a Health and Lifestyle Assessment and to test the Farmer HAT. He said that he found it very user-friendly and ‘can see the benefit in being able to track his own health, and, if completed every year, can act on trends which are not favourable,’ said Simon.
Other participants also commented that they could see benefit in using the Farmer HAT group function as a tool in their own family farm business. Rosey Leeming, also from the Balmoral BestWool / BestLamb group, said that ‘the benefit of a group report will be that we can target areas that, as a group, we may need to tackle, such as [drinking too much] alcohol, hearing [problems], or maybe [renewing or completing] a first aid course’.
‘Farmer HAT is a shining example of how technology can help in developing user-friendly tools to assist in the running of a viable and profitable business,’ John said.
The development of the Farmer HAT was funded as part of the 2018–20 Victorian Government Drought Response. To sign up to use Farmer HAT and complete an assessment, visit the National Centre for Farmer Health website.