The power of resilience and agility for farmers

The power of resilience helps us bounce back and move forward from challenging situations. This also depends on the capacity to adapt effectively to change and stressful situations or in other words it also depends on personal agility. With people working in agriculture, particularly farmers, facing a lot of uncertainty, new challenges and changes in consumer preferences and regulations, resilience is a key requirement to thrive and be successful. The good news is that resilience can be learned and developed.

Farmers themselves realise that they cannot sit back and be a passive partner to change. The question is what they can do personally to enhance their own ability to cope with change and adversity, which is covered further down in this article.

Importance of resilience in farming

Agricultural resilience is about equipping farmers to absorb and recover from shocks and stresses to their agricultural production and livelihoods. Several authorities across the world point to the growing importance of building resilience and adaptive capacity in rural communities and farming. There are also charities that are proactively supporting it, including the Prince’s Countryside Fund, who runs a farm resilience programme.

To become truly resilient, farm businesses require adaptability and transformability, is the argument of an EU‐wide group of scientists of 16 universities and research institutes from 11 European countries currently working together in the project SURE‐Farm. Previously policies and market instruments were mainly aimed at maintaining stability of the farm business. This group defines resilience for agriculture as maintaining the essential functions of EU farming systems in the face of increasingly complex and volatile economic, social, environmental and institutional challenges. Consultant firms also looking at other industries are stressing the importance of the ability to be agile and self-disrupt as critical for organizational resilience.

Adaptability in agriculture is the capacity to adjust responses to changing external drivers and internal processes and thereby allow for development along the current trajectory while continuing important functionalities.

Transformability is the capacity to create a fundamentally new system when environmental, economic, or social structures make the existing system untenable in order to provide important functionalities.

Obviously, resilience is becoming an important topic for people researching the sustainability and survival of rural communities and farming systems. Measures are being taken to improve our understanding of what makes a farm resilient, right down to improving the resilience of farm animals.

However, the resilience of people running the farm also has an important role to play. Here we want to discuss some of the factors that matter for the resilience of an individual and the steps farmers or any other individual can take to develop stronger personal resilience.

What defines a resilient person

Most people will define resilience as the ability to recover from setback, adapt well to change and keep going in the face of adversity and change.

However, a more modern take on resilience is: advancing (not just bouncing back) despite adversity.

What matters is how we respond to challenges and our outlook. Resilience requires that we reprogram ourselves so that the automatic stress response does not overwhelm us, and we are able to respond to a situation effectively.

A 2017 study including 800 adults from 42 countries, highlighted by the magazine Psychology Today, reveals the most important character strength for resilience to overcome life stress. They found that hope was a significant moderator of well-being in the face of negative life events. However, hope in this study did not just mean being optimistic about things getting better in the future. Here hope means having goals and pursuing them energetically and flexibly, finding many different pathways to getting positive results.

Doug Avery, a farmer from New Zealand who went through some very tough times because of drought, describes his path to resilience in his book “The resilient farmer”. He is currently touring and encouraging farmers to learn to be resilient and adapt in different parts of the world. Doug Avery also shares what resilient people do not do.

8 things resilient people don’t do (Doug Avery)

• Waste time feeling sorry for themselves. • Shy away from change. • Waste time on things they can’t control. • Dwell on the past. • Make the same mistakes, over and over. • Resent another’s success. • Give up after failure. • Feel the world owes them something.

How can we develop our personal resilience to adapt for the future

Many years of research point to the fact that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviors and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone. Resilience is learnable, but also involves a sense of safety and strong social support system.

Eventually all of us will face some form of adversity. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Resilience is about how we deal with adversity. So, it makes sense to develop resilience ahead of time, before facing a crisis.

Our innate biological response to change activates a stress reaction. Nevertheless, by building a mindset of resilience and acting with agility in the face of challenging and difficult situations, we can also turn adversities into advantages.

Something you can do straight away and is advocated by Psychology Today is:

1) Pick one or two life goals that are most important to you and describe as many different strategies as you can for achieving them.
2) Think about any obstacles you may face to achieving these goals.
3) Write down what coping strategies you can use to overcome these obstacles.
With this type of goal-oriented resilience, you can stay focused on what is important when facing a difficult situation.

The resilience institute developed a method for measuring resilience in people. One of their findings in a recent report is that the most resilient people reported a strong ability to focus, which was almost not existent in people with low resilience. Another interesting finding was that low resilience people report high amounts of fatigue, while highly resilient people reported very little fatigue. So, one simple step to resilience could also be to make sure to get enough quality sleep. Resilience training was reported to lower levels of depression, reduce sickness-related absence and increase self-esteem.

A very interesting insight was shared at this year’s Resilient Farmer Conference: Being resilient does not mean, that you do not need help. Quite the opposite, it is the resilient people who ask for help when they need it.

Having a strong support network and having people to talk to and ask for help is a key factor in making it through difficult times. Therefore, taking time to socialize and network to build your personal support network and good relationships is vital. Isolation will make you less resilient.

Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. A 2019 study from the University of Guelph in Canada involving 1132 farmers illustrates a critical need for research and interventions related to mental health of farmers. The average resilience scores of farmers in this Canadian study were lower than population norms reported for several general populations in the US. Other countries are also reporting concerns about the state of mental health in their farming communities.

Dairy Australia have some good points to build emotional resilience:
• Positive self-talk
• Focus on the things you can control – know what you can control and stop wasting energy on things you can’t
• Connecting with community – whether it is offline or online connect with positive people. The more people you interact with, the greater the likelihood that you will meet people who have experienced, survived and grown through similar experiences.

Find helplines

In the UK there are a number of organizations and charities that can offer support to farmers for mental health, which can be found on Twitter (for example: @FCNcharity, @dpjfoundation, @NFUtweets, @Ag_psych, @yellowwelliesuk). In Canada you can turn to @domoreag and in the US you can call FARM AID (1-800-327-6243, @FarmAid). This is not a complete list, but highlights that help is available to farmers. The important thing is to reach out for help if you need it.

More and more farmers are talking about mental health and support each other on #AgTwitter.

The power of resilience

Resilience provides a framework for personal well-being and success. It defines how you respond to adversity. In an era of rapid technological change, great uncertainty, economic, political and climatic turbulence resilience is increasingly becoming a highly valuable asset. Not acting to proactively develop your personal resilience, almost certainly will set you back in farming and your life in today’s and even more in the future world. Maintaining personal resilience needs to be an ongoing exercise in your life.

Related articles

The One Resilience Skill You Need to Overcome Life Stress

Stress, anxiety, depression, and resilience in Canadian farmers

Animal Resilience – Harnessing the power of plant resilience

Resilience – economic value in animal production

For better FCR invest in anti-oxidative capacity

Reducing antibiotic growth promotors in animal feed calls for the development of new strategies to improve feed conversion (FCR) in poultry production systems. This represents unique opportunities to explore the biochemical and physiological sources of inter-animal variations associated with FCR. Research has demonstrated a genetic link between feed conversion ratio and mitochondrial ROS (reactive oxygen species) production at the cellular level in broilers. More recent studies indicate a positive relationship between increased anti-oxidative capacity in broilers induced by certain plant extracts in feed and improved FCR.

Relationship between FCR and antioxidative capacity

Feed efficiency has been heavily weighted in breeding objectives for meat producing poultry for over 40 years and as a result, major gains have been made. More recent investigations by a poultry science group from the University of Arkansas provide a picture of the basis of feed efficiency (FE) at the cellular level. Oxidative stress turned out to be a cellular activity affecting feed efficiency.

The studies showed that animals with higher feed efficiency had better mitochondrial function that included less mitochondrial ROS production and less oxidation of proteins. Although feed intake was not different between low and high FE broilers, high FE broilers gained more weight and feed conversion ratios were significantly different between high and low FE groups. The level of protein carbonyl, an indicator of protein oxidation, was higher in mitochondria isolated from breast muscle of low FE compared with high FE broilers, which indicated higher oxidative stress in low FE birds.

Building on the knowledge of the link between antioxidative capacity and improved FCR in broilers from genetic research, certain plant components could offer an additional and safe way to improve FCR by nutritional means.

Anti-oxidative power from plants

The exposure of plants to unfavourable environmental conditions increases the production of ROS, which uncontrolled leads to cell damage from oxidative stress. Consequently, it is essential for plants to have sophisticated ROS detoxification processes for protection of plant cells against the negative effects of ROS. Many herbs and spices contain high levels of components with strong antioxidative power, such as alkaloids and polyphenolic compounds including different types of phenolic terpenes, phenolic acids and flavonoids.

Nutritional boost for anti-oxidative capacity in birds

Recent studies carried out by the University in Athens confirmed that feeding a phytogenic formula containing certain phenolic terpenes and flavonoids to broilers significantly increased the antioxidative capacity in breast tissue, thigh, liver tissue and certain parts of the gut. Parameter for ROS scavenging activity, activity of antioxidative enzymes and reduced lipid peroxidation were significantly improved in those tissues. This study showed that there was a positive correlation between antioxidative capacity in the breast tissue of broilers and improvements in FCR (P<0.05). This indicates that feeding strategies for increased antioxidative capacity could support feed efficiency in broilers, which is subject to further research.

Benefits package from antioxidant plant components

Feeding strong antioxidative components from herbs and spices, such as certain phenolic terpenes and flavonoids offer an opportunity to naturally improve antioxidative capacity in broilers and thereby improve FCR for more profitable and sustainable production. The impact can be expected to be greater when birds are exposed to stressors such as heat, toxins and the likelihood for oxidative stress is high. Additional benefits from feeding these components may include better meat quality and stability. Cost-efficacy depends on finding the right composition, dosage and bioavailability.

Relevant scientific abstracts

Phytogenic premix effects on gene expression of intestinal antioxidant enzymes and broiler meat antioxidant capacity

Effects of dietary inclusion level of a phytogenic premix on broiler growth performance, nutrient digestibility, total antioxidant capacity and gene expression of antioxidant enzymes