Why all the talk about mental health issues among farmers? Has agriculture really become that tough or has our ability to cope become less with time?
The delayed harvest is a major issue in many regions and that’s certainly frustrating and stressful, but it isn’t uncommon. In many recent years, September progress has been limited with most of the harvest accomplished in October or even later.
Between the wet weather and the frost, cereal crops will have lost quality. Fortunately, the feed market seems to have underlying support. Unlike 2016, the feed market isn’t being deluged with fusarium-damaged wheat and durum.
A great deal of the crop remaining in the field is canola and while there could be shelling losses, the wet weather shouldn’t cause a major quality issue.
We’re also at a time when the financial viability of most grain farms is strong. Yes, margins are tightening, but the past 10 years have been some of the best the industry has ever seen. Even for those that may be running into financial difficulty, equity is generally strong due to rising land values.
While high land prices and cash rents are an issue, it’s a better problem than falling land values like those experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s. Producers who bought land often found themselves owing more than the land was worth. This was exacerbated by high interest rates that seem unreal by today’s standards.
Through history, in times when the grain industry was doing relatively well, cow-calf producers were often struggling. Securing enough feed has been the main concern in the southern, drier regions this year, but calf prices are pretty good and look like they’ll hold up for the fall calf run.
The sector really struggling is hogs. Independent hog producers are suffering huge losses, equity is being eroded and operations are going out of business. However, the industry on the Prairies is dominated by large players vertically integrated with major processing plants.
In many regions, independent hog producers are few and far between with Hutterite colonies being the only remaining players.
With the ongoing trade negotiations between Canada and the United States, it’s certainly a tense time for dairy producers. In this case, the level of uncertainty and the potential for dramatic ramifications could actually be described as unprecedented. Not so for the problems facing grain and beef producers.
Yet, when you hear people talk about stress on the farm, mental health issues and even farmer suicides, you’d think times must be really tough, that we must be facing unique challenges. That isn’t really the case and old, crusty commentators like this one are sometimes tempted to say “Suck it up Buttercup.”
Of course, from a mental wellness perspective, that isn’t helpful. People have to deal with their own personal demons and it can be difficult for them to look on the bright side or to care about historical perspective.
Plus, family-related issues are often a major source of the difficulties and that hasn’t improved with time. It’s hard to tell if the rise of social media is a help or a hindrance.
Farming has a lot of stressors even in relatively good times. Problems can seem insurmountable. Fortunately, there’s more awareness of mental health issues than ever before and help is available for those struggling.