Ag Matters: Take a moment to make sure your friends, family members and co-workers are handling their stress.
By Chris Chinn, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture
Our concerns are legitimate. The number of times I’ve written the phrase “depressed commodity prices, trade uncertainty and natural disasters” cannot be counted. These are the stresses that farmers, ranchers and agribusiness owners are shouldering today. Are these times unprecedented? Maybe.
In the 1980s, I was a child, but I remember the stress that came with those times. I saw the grit and determination it took for those farmers to tighten their expenses, remain positive and keep the family farm alive. Today, we are facing our own set of challenges that some would compare with those times. Others in agriculture hesitate to draw too close of a connection.
I’m unsure who is exactly right, but what I do know is that the stress around us is intense. It’s very easy to feel as though the world around us would never understand the agricultural challenges we face every day.
For many of us, farming is a tradition that goes back for several generations and hundreds of years. The pressure to make sure the family farming business continues can make us feel isolated. At the end of a long day, it doesn’t take a long scroll through social media to find someone else attacking modern agriculture as we work to feed a growing population.
With a modernized world around us, it’s time we take a new look at how to manage farmer stress.
Dealing with difficulties
We need to be willing to have tough conversations and destigmatize talking through our challenges. It’s easy, if not the natural thing, for a farmer to put themselves last. We all get up in the morning, put our livestock first, knock out a few chores before most have started their coffee and prepare for a day in the field. The symptoms of prolonged stress like we are seeing today won’t simply go away. It’s important to have each other’s backs.
Do you know the signs to be looking for if those around you are stressed too far, or for too long? While it’s OK to be in a bad mood over something that just keeps breaking, watch those you work with for unusually intense mood swings, trouble concentrating or relaxing, and harsh comments toward themselves.
There are resources available for those facing tough times. Be sure to openly communicate with your lender, local USDA office representatives and crop insurance agents to make sure you’re not leaving some financial relief on the table.
Farmers are always driven by getting up early and doing the work that’s needed every day. I’d like to add something to your to-do list: Please make sure that your friends, co-workers and family members are managing their stress.
During harvest, we all know it will be easy — if not required — to miss community events, family meals and more. Checking in on those close to you is something you’ll never regret.
If someone around you is having trouble managing their stress, you may recommend getting away from the farm for a few hours, spending time with loved ones, getting caught up on sleep or stopping for a quick prayer.
If your friends or family members need additional help or want to talk anonymously with a trained professional, they can text the Disaster Distress Helpline with the phrase “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
Just like we band together to fix unfair trade agreements, ensure a neighbor’s harvest gets completed on time or advocate for the next agriculture policy priority, I hope you’ll come together as we all manage farm stress.
Agriculture is truly a family. We are stronger together. We can overcome anything as long as we work together and have each other’s backs.
Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.