Managing Stress in the World of Farming

Farmers feed the world. From sunrise to sunset, they care for the land, tend to animals, and work hard to maintain what they steward. Pressures can mount when you consider what providing food for the planet means. From readying crops for harvest and keeping livestock healthy to looming drought and wringing hands over commodity prices at the market, these concerns barely scratch the surface of what growers and producers face every day. Is it any wonder that those responsibilities can feel, at times, like carrying 100 yards of pipe alone?

Agribusiness Stressors

Coronavirus, shifts in climate, and trade disruptions have not steered clear of agriculture. There is increased uncertainty for many who need to make day-to-day business decisions based on here and now facts without a direct link to future events. Farmers and laborers rank number one in stress-related illnesses that cause death such as heart disease, hypertension, and nervous disorders. 1-in-4 farmers reported turning to opioids without a prescription, abusing prescription narcotics, or labeled themselves as addicted to painkillers. These statistics may not be surprising when considering what many growers contend with on the job. Worn machinery, making payroll, and staying technologically current in rural areas meet the human being with personal concerns. Without a healthy outlet for stress and anxiety, problems can multiply like rabbits.

To say that many factors weigh heavily on the shoulders of those in our line of work—like our Fratco employees, partners and their customers—is an understatement. Life is an equal opportunity stress-provider. However, there are ways to manage pressures when professional and personal headaches grow, and it all begins with awareness.

Stress and the Industry

Our line of work comes with caution and concern for safety, which can weigh heavily on the mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that agriculture ranks near the top of hazardous industries with 24 out of 100,000 full-time farmers, ranchers, and other industry-specific employees experiencing fatality in the workplace, compared to 3.5 work-related deaths for every 100,000 people holding civilian positions.

In a 2019 interview with Anna Hastert for Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network, Michael Rosmann, a University of Iowa psychologist and fellow farmer, saw a better understanding and acceptance of mental health measures in today’s farmer versus those battling economic, political and weather-related woes thirty to forty years prior. “Farmers have a better understanding of stress—what causes pressure on farmers, what the symptoms of stress are—and they are able to talk about these matters more openly than they did in the 1980s,” Rosmann said.

We are farther ahead today in recognizing stress, yet it’s no secret that rural access to mental health services can be limited at best.. Legislation is working to change that. As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, or the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, a portion of funds supports the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. This program addresses concerns by providing collaborative funding and support. It lends a financial hand to new growers, those who are socially disadvantaged and need help launching their agribusiness career, and also to veterans who farm by providing mentorship and grant opportunities. This legislation offers a respite and a revamping of programs and dollars to alleviate some stress-induced pain points.

Stress-overload Warning Signs

Knowing stress-related warning signs when they bubble to the surface helps combat the slippery slope of dealing with stress negatively. Warning signs differ from person to person. Extreme changes in mood or personality are vital indicators. Is your happy-go-lucky pal now extremely quiet or missing standing breakfast meetings on Mondays? Once slow to anger, do they now boil over with frustration? Have there been any considerable life changes or problems at home or work that seem to be taking a toll? All questions to consider in context and to the degree they interfere with life.

Stress excludes no one. Learning to deal with life’s hurdles positively and productively means heading off feelings of despair or anxiety before they take over our thoughts, moods—our lives. Living, working, and playing are all aspects of ourselves that never equally balance. Sometimes those with the strongest of hands, hearts and souls need someone to confide in as well as listen judgement-free.

Ways to Combat Stress

At Fratco, we want to help you become familiar with ways to manage stress. Having programs, policies, and access to help is essential to combat our industry’s overwhelming stress levels. Recognizing alarm-sounding anxiety or worry in others and yourself is the first step. Next is having a quiver of tools and resources to turn to.

As simple as it sounds, sometimes relaxing is as easy as breathing deeply. Take a few moments to breathe in deeply and exhale fully. Be aware of tension in your body then try letting it go. Rather than focusing on what’s eroding your peace of mind, remember that you control how you react to challenging times, situations, and people. Concentrate on switching off negative thoughts about yourself or others the moment they begin. Rough patches come just as quickly as they can go. It’s all in how you choose to react and bounce back from stressors.

A positive mindset can make all the difference. If work-related worries cause alarm, it’s time to sort out what can be controlled and what cannot. Installing pipe is a specific way you can deal with crop health and drainage. Mother Nature works on her terms, not ours, meaning we cannot control her. Ignoring business complications does not enhance your work. Partnering with others for help and mentorship is taking control of your business. Rather than build up tension and anxiety over work concerns keeping you up at night, reach out to agribusiness resources or extension offices and tap into their expertise. Challenging times are going to happen. A healthy mindset makes all the difference in moving forward and problem-solving to rise above.

Recognizing Stress in Others

Listening quietly and with our full attention is the first step to lending a hand. Be all ears as to what is happening rather than only taking notice to fix issues. Every person and problem is unique, even if the theme of the situation is universal. Unless asked for advice, try not to inject personal stories into the conversation. Empathy is a gift you can give to someone who has opened up about their feelings and struggles. They are trusting you with vulnerability. In turn, give them your full focus. These conversations can be challenging whether you’re listening or opening up about your struggles. No matter how difficult, processing what’s causing worry, then making a plan to move forward, is essential.

Fratco wants to help reduce stress-stigma, share resources and shine a spotlight on mental health awareness. If you or someone you know is overwhelmed, you do not have to navigate it alone. 

Resources for Managing Stress

Managing Farm Stress – Michigan State University Extension offers mental health and stress management resources geared towards agribusiness owners and employees.

Resilient Farms, Families, Businesses & Communities The University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension provides stress management resources for those in the industry.

TransFARMation – Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network present radio and podcast series topics centered on coping with stress.

For immediate and confidential help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).