Keep your head in the game! I have heard many coaches, players and broadcasters shout those instructions many times during my 33 years of playing, watching and enjoying sporting events. Sometimes executing those instructions is easier said than done. I have seen the quote several times on social media making the statement, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” That struggle could be related to anything from family to financial stress and everything in between. As human beings, we are imperfect and face challenges, but often compartmentalize these challenges in unhealthy ways.
I know that I have re-written this column at least half a dozen times this month. It hasn’t been for a lack or words or direction, or even because of spelling and grammar errors. It’s been because the subject and talking points are not easy to walk through. By no means am I an expert on mental health, but I wanted to address this topic because it is very relevant to our nation’s agricultural community.
As I hope many of you know, our farm community is navigating through a very tough economic time today. Nearly every farm product we produce in Wisconsin from milk to cranberries to meat to corn and soybeans are at severe lows compared to costs of production. Many farmers are working 18+ hour days to care for livestock and plant their crops and literally losing money every time they lace up their boots. This challenge is not unique to Wisconsin, which has resulted in the farmer suicide rate being DOUBLE that of veterans from our armed services. The real number is 44. According to the Center for Disease Control, 44 farmers commit suicide every day across our country. That’s a staggering number as our farm community only makes up about 2% of our total population here in the U.S.
I have not served and therefore cannot and will not speculate as to what’s going through a veteran’s mind, but I have been around agriculture my entire life. The physical, mental and emotional challenges our farmers face are tough when prices are good, but when you add the financial stress of spending several hundred dollars an acre to grow a crop it’s easy to see how the stress is amplified. The average corn crop in Wisconsin will cost around $600 per acre to plant in 2018, and at current market prices we need 200-bushel/acre corn to break even. The Green County corn yield average is 173 bushels per acre, which is a 27-bushel loss, or $81 dollars per acre of red ink. If I grow 500 acres of corn that’s a potential loss of $40,500. The idea of going to work every day and losing that kind of money is agonizing. The dairy industry has an even higher risk of loss today. Every farm is different and has a different break even point, however, the struggle within our farming communities is real.
The idea of going to work every day and losing that kind of money is agonizing.
Farming is a rewarding career and lifestyle, but doesn’t come without tough times and stress. If there is one thing I know about working with farmers, it’s that they are a very proud group of people. Talking about their financial plight and mental health is likely not high on the priority list. That certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk thru these issues. There are a variety of outlets for people to reach out to when it comes to mental health here in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) offers a free, confidential resource called the Wisconsin Farm Center. They offer free, confidential assistance for all Wisconsin farmers in a variety of areas to help work through some tough situations. They offer advice in the areas of farm financial planning, farm transition, conflict mediation, herd-based diagnostics, counseling services and more.
Farming is a rewarding career and lifestyle, but doesn’t come without tough times and stress.
Here in Green County there are a variety of resources ranging from, but not limited to, the Green County Health and Human Services, the Green County Healthy Community Coalition and the Behavioral Health Department at the Monroe Clinic. These outlets have tools available to assist you through the challenges you’re facing, and help find healthy alternatives to dealing with these issues.
To our farmers reading this article, thank you. Thank you for what you do and the sacrifices you make every day in good times and in tough times to provide food and fiber for your consumers. There is no shame in reaching out to others during your time of need and certainly do not have to bear your burdens alone. Please reach out to the people and organizations listed above when you need someone to talk to.
To the consumers reading this column, please take the time to thank a farmer. That simple message can go a long way when it comes from someone who appreciates the jobs being done to help feed their family. If you eat, you should thank those who provide the food, fiber, milk and meat that we as consumers enjoy. Whether it be with a friend, relative, neighbor or random stranger, we all should take the time to stop, listen and say thank you to our farmers every day, but especially now during their time of need. Let’s help them keep their head in the game.
Ben Huber serves as the Green County Farm Bureau president and is the agronomy risk management and procurement manager for Insight FS. He and his wife, Stephanie, are the proud parents of 3 children.