General News Research Rural — 18 May 2018

Farmers feeling anxious should moderate their time on social media, according to industry professionals. (ABC Rural: Jo Prendergast) 

Too much time spent on social media is increasing anxiety and stress for some primary producers, and they are being warned to reduce their online interactions and instead focus on what is within their control.

Agricultural industry professionals say social media can have an unhealthy influence on farmers’ decision-making and moods during stressful times, and creates an unreasonable fear of missing out (FOMO).

With much of Western Australia’s grain growing region experiencing a dry autumn so far, Regional Men’s Health educator Owen Catto said there were increased levels of anxiety in the farming community, even with the knowledge that there was still plenty of time to grow a profitable crop.

Mr Catto said making comparisons because of content seen on social media could exacerbate anxiety for farmers, and cause them to second-guess pre-planned management decisions.

“Both in our personal and business life it can. There’s some good things about social media, but there’s the removal of people staying in the present.

“Social media really enables people to look over the fence from the point of comparing one state to another, or one end of the state to another, and [that’s] not comparing apples with apples.”

Geraldton-based agronomist Simon Teakle agreed social media could compound negativity and stress.

“As soon as they find there’s somewhere else where they’ve had a bit of rain or they’ve got crop out of the ground, we get nervous, we’re behind them.

“We’ve got to stick to our own path and our own decisions and follow through with what we set out to do.”

Restrict how much time you’re online

With smartphones and improved mobile networks in some areas, access to the internet and social media has increased in regional Australia.

Mr Catto said this could lead to an unhealthy amount of time spent on social media.

“How often is really important. People are on social media quite often, whether it’s in a workplace or a group of farmers, they’re just on it all the time.

“We know when we go home and we’ve got our own families and our own business partners, we’ve actually got to turn that off. You can’t have that stuff in your ear 24-7.

“If it’s encapsulating your life too much, you’ve really got to question the time you’re spending on social media.”

Mr Teakle said he advised his clients to focus on their own paddocks, not what was happening elsewhere.

“I wouldn’t say keep off social media, there’s some good aspects, but in a lot of cases there are things that happen on social media that influence people’s minds a bit, and it has got no significance to what they’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Negativity is prevalent

Greenough sheep and grain farmer Ben Royce would usually have his stock grazing pasture at this time of year, but instead he is still hand-feeding them hay. 

He checks social media two or three times a day and is noticing more negativity.

“At the moment everyone is asking where the rain is, why is the airseeder broken and when is lunch coming,” he said.

“It’s not a good feeling knowing that it hasn’t rained yet, but I’m still optimistic.

“It’s not the end of May yet. End of May or early June hopefully we get something then, but you can see how it’s easy to get negative at this time of the season.

“When it’s green everyone seems to be a lot happier on Facebook.”

On the flipside, Mr Royce said being able to share frustrations with others in similar situations created a sense of not being alone.

We don’t talk anymore

Mr Catto said people were not having enough genuine face-to-face conversations.

“[Social media] will never replace face-to-face.

“We are social creatures and social animals, and without face-to-face we can’t get all those things that encapsulate having a conversation.”

Mr Catto said conversation was the first thing he recommended for a client who was concerned about anxiety.

“The first thing we say is talk to people around you that are important in your decision-making. Hopefully that’s direct family, then it might your business advisor and accountant.” 

This piece by Joanna Prendergast was originally seen on ‘ABC News‘ 16 May 2018. 



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