Farmers and depression: Your identity is more than the farm
While we are only halfway through the year (and things can always move up from here), 2019 may likely be remembered for crazy weather, trade wars, commodity price lulls, a drop in median farm income, rising inputs, regulatory and retailer challenges and demands and uncertainty for the future that weighs heavily on the minds and hearts of producers.
This crisis was recently addressed in Fortune as Beth Ford, CEO of Land O’Lakes, described what is facing producers in rural America.
Ford writes, “As the CEO of Land O’Lakes, one of the country’s largest farmer- and retail-member-owned cooperatives, I see these realities all the time. It is the privilege of my life to work with these families who, in the face of such hardship, demonstrate endless resilience, optimism, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Ninety-six percent of farms are family-owned.
“These are people who understand the cyclical nature of the industry and don’t give up in the face of setbacks. They protect and care for the land they want to pass on to their children.
“But it’s not enough to count on farmers to tough it out. America needs to start listening to the voices of the heartland. It’s not just about feeling empathy for flood-ravaged communities. It is about recognizing our shared destiny.
“It is about remembering that agriculture is the bedrock of our economy and security. The products of urban America are essential. But without a thriving rural and farm economy producing abundant, affordable food for a growing planet, a foundational pillar of our strength as a country will collapse.”
I recently read the sad news that a farmer in my neck of the woods had committed suicide. While we may never know the true reason why he chose to end his life, his story is all too familiar as more stories like this seem to pop up every day in agricultural communities across the country.
Perhaps you’re weathering the current farming conditions just fine, or maybe you’re not. No matter what is happening at home on the farm or ranch, I think this blog post written by Uptown Girl blogger Kate Lambert titled, “Hey Farmer: You Are Not The Farm” says it all.
Lambert writes, “I need you to hear something right now. I need you to hear this loud and clear. I’m so sorry for everything this year has thrown at you. I’m so sorry for all the things you cannot control that put so much weight on you. But hear me, you are not defined by this year’s crop. Or this year’s income. Or this year’s success. You are not the farm. You are more than the farm.”
This is a tough subject, and I’ve been criticized recently for only writing about depression in agriculture instead of “fixing” the root cause of this depression. Yet, I am just a producer myself, trying to take advantage of the years when things are good, so I can battle through the cyclical lows of this industry when they come my way.
I’m just like every other rancher, mom, wife, daughter and friend — I want my family’s operation, and that of my friends and peers, to succeed. In order to succeed, we must be profitable, sustainable and in business today, tomorrow and generations down the road. This is a tall order to achieve through a column, yet it begins by having difficult conversations like this.
So if you, or someone you know, is struggling right now, remember tomorrow is a brand new day. Do your best today. Remember that people love you.
You are more than the farm, the yield of your crops, the weight of your weaned calves or the income derived off the land. You are a person with unique talents, passions and skills with great things to offer the world. Even in dark times, may you never forget that.
And as always, we are in this together. If you’re feeling low, reach out to a friend and commiserate. Chances are somebody is facing the same challenges and sometimes just trading war stories can make a person feel less alone and afraid. Lean on your agricultural community to get through these tough times. ❖