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Help for Ag Producers Facing Stress
By Russ Quinn
Friday, May 27, 2022 3:33PM CDT

OMAHA (DTN) -- Meg Moynihan compares farm stress to an onion. It is easy to see the most obvious issues in the outside layer, but as you peel back more layers the deeper issues farmers and ranchers have contain a huge array of challenges.

Weather, markets, finances, pests, animal health, government regulation, etc. are just a few of the challenges.

"You can't see all of the issues people have," Moynihan said.

Moynihan is a Senior Advisor to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and focuses much of her time on the issues of farm stress. Her family also operates a Minnesota organic dairy.

She recently gave a presentation titled "Exploring Farm and Ranch Stress" on a webinar put on by Kansas State University (KSU) Extension.

MANY FARM STRESSORS

Farmers and ranchers face inherent challenges people in other industries do not have, Moynihan said.

At the top of the list is they work where they live and the line between work life and family life can be blurred at times. For some, work can consume their entire life, she said.

Another issue is working with family members and the stress from this situation. In many farming operations, family is expected to work together and then get together in family settings which can lead to issues.

Other issues include finding the balance between farm jobs and those who have off-the-farm jobs, competition to buy or rent farmland, and even envy of other farming operations.

Research shows agriculture as one of the top 10 most stressful jobs, according to KSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Specialist Rachael Clews. She spoke about farm stress in a previous KSU webinar titled "Dealing with Drought".

Weather, yields, government regulations, machinery, and family issues are just a few issues which play a role in ag stress, she said.

Kansas State is partnering with 12 other universities to study the issue of farm and ranch stress. Among their first priorities is to educate producers so they will take care of their mental health better, she said.

"I often say we help our livestock when they are not well, but often there isn't much help available to our farmers and ranchers (for mental health)," Clews said.

WATCH FOR AG STRESS SIGNS

Moynihan said stress manifests itself different ways in different people.

For some, it can be physical ailments, such as sleep disturbances, weight loss or gain, and even hygiene issues. For others, it can be more emotional issues such as depression, anxiety or relationship or marital problems.

"Research shows rural suicides are more common than urban suicides," Moynihan said. "And men are more likely to consider suicide than women."

Clews said she understands suicide is a very difficult issue to talk about. But if open communication helps prevent suicides, then it is well worth having an uncomfortable discussion, she said.

One family who hopes to help open the discussion on suicides is the Hulsizer family from Knox County, Illinois. Liz Hulsizer shared on DTN how she and husband, Matt, fifth-generation farmers, picked up the pieces after the loss of her father-in-law to suicide in 2013.

"What we hope in sharing our story is that those who need help will seek help, and those who don't need help will seek out and help those who do. We hope we can see an end to the stigma surrounding mental health and that what we experienced and went through will not be in vain." See Hulsizer's article at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

WHY PEOPLE DON'T SEEK HELP

Farmers and ranchers have a list of reasons why they don't seek help for stress, Moynihan said. Once again, these reasons can vary.

Moynihan said since ag people are pretty self-sufficient, most believe they should be able to handle their problems themselves. It is their problem -- and they will solve it -- is often their mentality, she said.

For some people facing ag stress, they wonder where they would even go for help. Many live in rural areas and often these places do not have many local resources, she noted.

Other reasons for not seeking help include others won't understand, it costs too much, not having the time to seek help and nobody can fix what is wrong.

AG STRESS RESOURCES AVAILABLE

Moynihan said there are actually many different resources available to rural residents dealing with ag stress.

First and foremost, nearly every ag state has a 24/7 confidential hotline farmers and ranchers can call for help.

In Kansas, there is a Kansas Ag Stress Resources (https://www.kansasagstress.org/…). At this website is several phone numbers, including suicide prevention and even crisis text lines, to provide rural residents with mental health services.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has resources available for ag mental health. The website is https://www.mda.state.mn.us/… and also includes a farm and rural helpline.

"Most every ag state has some sort of resources available to farmers and ranchers to help them with their stress," she said.

Those who live in these communities need to watch for signs of ag stress on farmers and offer some sort of help. Often talking with friends, families or even local clergy can help ag producers under stress.

Moynihan said in Minnesota her government agency is teaming up with other ag groups to get the message of ag mental health out to the public. This includes teaming up with ag commodity groups, USDA FSA, University of Minnesota Extension and rural news sources in the state to get their message out to farmers and ranchers.

USDA's National Institute of Feed and Agriculture (NIFA) announced in October 2021 nearly $25 million for grants supporting Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) State Department of Agriculture (SDA) projects. The program connects farmers and ranchers to stress assistance programs (https://www.nifa.usda.gov/…).

The grants will help with assistance programs ranging from mental health and legal issues to family and youth stress, according to the press release.

Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN


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