We count on organic farmers to keep us supplied with pesticide-free produce, but a new study shows their lives are stressful.

Self-employment may be good for productivity—but not for mainstream and organic farmers, who score badly on every measure of health and quality of life, reveals a study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Finnish researchers used validated survey data to assess factors affecting productivity, as well as perceived health and quality of life, among a random sample of 5,000 adults between ages 30 and 64. Of the 3,536 individuals who worked full time, around 90% completed the questionnaires designed to measure perceived productivity, health status and quality of life. Of those working full time, almost 10% were self-employed entrepreneurs, of whom 3.5% were farmers.

The farmers and entrepreneurs tended to be older than the salaried workers, and all the self-employed who were sole traders tended to have lower levels of educational attainment and incomes than peers with staff and salaried workers. Self-employed entrepreneurs with staff scored the highest on all the measures assessed. Farmers scored the lowest.

When productivity was assessed separately, more than one-third of farmers achieved low or average scores. This compares with 16% of salaried workers and sole traders and 12% of entrepreneurs with staff.

After taking account of a range of influential factors, such as age, long-term conditions and loving relationships, entrepreneurs with staff and salaried workers scored around the same. But farmers still fared the worst.

Previous research has suggested the jobs best for health and well-being allow workers a good deal of control and support, irrespective of the demands made on them. Self-employed people tend to have more control over their working lives, but their work tends to be more stressful, say the authors, who conclude that farmers in particular need more social and emotional support.