The Struggling Farm Economy and its Impact on Farmers
The role of an extension agent is to work to better the lives and livelihoods of the individuals in our counties relating to the subject matter that we cover. We are deeply invested in seeing the residents of our communities be successful and thrive. And we do our best to work as a team across the state and country to share information and common trends that we may come across. One of the main topics that seems to continuously come up is the state of the agricultural economy and the impact it has on our farmers. Since then, it seems that the topic of a current farm crisis has cropped up in every other conversation that I have.
I’m too young to have experienced the farm crisis of the 1980’s firsthand, but I do remember what it looked like for farmers in the early 90’s as they worked to climb out of that hole. My family managed to hold onto the farm, but I remember a lot of years when the dinner table was pretty lean as we worked to minimize the budget in every part of our lives. I’ve had a lot of conversations recently alluding to us facing a similar crisis today to what we saw in the 80’s.
Farming is a high stress occupation
The quiet side of the story is the impact that kind of stress has on the people involved. Those in the agriculture field recognize the stress inherent to the job. There are a lot of factors involved that agriculturalists of all trades have no control over. Weather is the most obvious one. Another is that agriculturalists are often at the mercy of market prices set by businesses and corporations. That leads to a sense of helplessness and being powerless, even if it may be a record year of production.
That helplessness and powerlessness can lead to serious mental health issues. For those that are on family farms, they are dealing with the prospect of losing land and a business that might have been successful for four generations. There is a deep connection between a farmer and their land, and the possibility of losing it can be crippling. No wonder there is growing concern about our farmers’ mental states.
These issues are even starting to grab international attention. This month, The Guardian published the story “Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?”. It looks at data provided by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC studies show those involved in farming, fishing, and forestry are facing suicide rates much higher than any other occupation. In fact, according to The Guardian, "The suicide rate for farmers is more than double that of veterans."
Help here in Johnson County
My goal is to bring awareness and attention to this issue. My experience is that the folks involved with agriculture are some of the hardiest and most optimistic people I know. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say, "Next year will be better," I would be a very rich woman. But every person has their breaking points, and we need to work together to tackle the issues facing agriculture and the individuals involved. Extension agents across the nation work to connect those individuals with resources. Be it technical help in growing a crop, ideas on how to tighten a farm budget, or even just providing a listening ear, we are always looking for ways to help our people improve their lives and livelihoods. And if that means tackling mental health, then that’s what we’ll do.
If you know of someone struggling because of this difficult farm economy, please contact our office. There are resources available in Johnson County to assist with the mental consequences of stress. For immediate help, in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.