On World Mental Health Day, Let’s All Remember Five Truths About Farming

    October 10, 2023
    Farming can be rewarding and enjoyable, but also stressful. Farming is often a lonely endeavor. Sometimes eerily so. Doing your work, often with the public watching (if located along a busy road), and yet no one has any idea of the stress and frustration. Progress cutting hay or combining corn across a field can be deceiving for observers who don’t know of the financial stress behind the crop or the weather or equipment battles being waged. The presence of new equipment can indicate a grower’s good fortunes, but it can also indicate heavy debt that may be creating anxiety.

    From the outside it is easy to see the shine and excitement of farming. From the inside, the stress can mentally destabilize anyone. Farming culture doesn’t help. We are taught to be independent problem solvers. We are also taught that talking about failures or setbacks is a sign of weakness to be avoided. We’ve all sat at the coffee shop listening to the chatter, which usually includes inflated or polished stories of successful outcomes, often leaving many of us to wonder quietly to ourselves how we cannot find that same level of success.

    Then there is the uncontrollable and unknowable: weather and markets. Nothing can be more frustrating than having your equipment and inputs ready to go, only to have to wait for the weather to cooperate. Meanwhile, each day delayed is costing you money. Or, to have weather cooperate, only to have a surprise rain come through on most of your cut hay. While other occupations have the stress of weather or operating in uncontrollable commodity markets, few experience both headaches.

    For all of our mental health, let’s pause and acknowledge these five truths about farming:

    If you’ve been stressed about the weather or markets…you are not alone.
    If you’ve been stressed about input prices…you are not alone.
    If you’ve doubted your ability as a farmer…you are not alone.
    If you’ve struggled to make ends meet and feel lost…you are not alone.
    If you’ve second guessed your decisions on crops, inputs, equipment, and even occupation…you are not alone.

    In the end, know others out there are right now experiencing the same stress you are, the same doubt, the same frustration of challenges that sometimes take the victory. You are not alone.

    Mental health starts with resetting culture and expectations. We must be willing to talk more about our struggles. They are normal. I’ve been through all of them.

    Finally, let’s all look to see the value of setbacks, even if weather related. Record lessons learned and action steps you can take to improve so the stressful situation does not occur, or at least become less stressful. Equipping ourselves to better address the problem next time does wonders for reducing stress. Adopting carbon farming practices certainly have helped me, even if they can’t make the weather or markets cooperate.

    In the meantime, know that you are not alone and that stress and anxiety do not go away on their own. Don’t let the stress of farming steal your passion for farming.

    Mental Health Resources:
    Farm Aid Hotline: 800-FARM-AID
    Farm and Rural Stress Hotline: 800-691-4336
    Farm Crisis Center: farmcrisis.nfu.org