Stress on the Farm

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Agriculture Educator, Leigh Presley

Listen to the news, and you’re likely going to hear something about the great economic times we’re experiencing: job growth, low unemployment, wage gains, or our huge local construction boom.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for everyone — farmers in particular aren’t feeling the benefits of our country’s economic upswing.

Years of depressed prices for commodity products, like dairy, corn and soybeans are taking a financial toll on many family farms. On top of other stresses common in farming — including weather’s impact on growing and harvest conditions, equipment breakdowns, on-farm injuries and generally excessive workloads — the current state of the farm economy is just another burden to bear.

A farmer’s work ethic and optimism is often key to getting through the tough times, but staving off the impacts of compounding stressors with hard work and a sunny outlook has its limits.

Impacts of stress

Stress often manifests in the body as headaches, ulcers, colds and other illnesses.

On a farm there’s little time to recover — taking care of animals and crops often comes before a farmer’s own self-care. The impact of stress on the brain can contribute to depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, memory and cognition issues. Working with these physical and mental distractions in a farm setting, hazardous enough as it is, can greatly increase the potential for injury, making a bad situation even worse.

As in many small family businesses, stress from the farm can easily spill into the home, affecting entire families. Stress-related anger, anxiety, blame and bitterness can strain family relationships, and at worst, divide families and end in the loss of a farming legacy.

A call to action

John Shutske, our own UW-Extension agricultural safety and health specialist, embraces the idea of stress being a call to action. In his publication “Farm Stress & Decision-Making During Challenging Times,” Shutske suggests several coping strategies to manage stress:

Eat healthy: Often in a rush, it’s easy for farmers to opt for quick calories, caffeine and sugar instead of healthy food and proper hydration.

Get moving: Exercising, especially during the less-busy months of winter, is helpful in relieving stress, maintaining a positive mood and preparing bodies for the physical demands of busier seasons.

Avoid unhealthy de-stressors, like alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

Talking: Openly discussing and airing problems, concerns and fears isn’t easy for most people, farmers especially, but simply communicating can often help relieve and prevent stressful situations.

Stay current on ag industry trends: Devoting time to self-education and networking can help open doors to new opportunities in agriculture.

Plan to clarify longterm goals: On a farm this might include adding a new enterprise, bringing a successor into the business, or in some cases, developing a plan to exit the business.

Set aside time for family: Farmers often miss special events, even holidays, due to the needs of the farm. Planning ahead and prioritizing time for family and fun can provide a healthy mental break.

Help yourself and others during stressful times: Take notice of symptoms of stress and depression and take action by contacting a counselor or health professional.

Supporting farmers

’Tis the season of giving. If you feel inclined to show your appreciation for Wisconsin farmers during a particularly stressful time, consider supporting them by purchasing local farm products or contributing to state and local organizations that support farmers and future farmers such as the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Foundation, the Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation, the Fondy Food Center, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, or youth groups like FFA or 4-H.