Drought has been an issue for farmers and ranchers since the first field was plowed and the first domesticated herd was rounded up.
Along with drought comes the inevitable stress that adverse growing conditions can put on people.
Recognition of how such stress is managed has changed over the years and the calls have grown to establish systems to deal with mental health issues for those in the ag sector.
The Do More Ag Foundation believes more must be done to address the mental health of those in the industry.
“The problems are just compounding year over year,” said Adelle Stewart, executive director of the foundation. “What we are looking for, advocating for, is a national, permanent, 24-7, bilingual and agriculture specific crisis and support line.”
Assistance would be provided by people with backgrounds in agriculture.
“If you haven’t grown up in agriculture or you don’t have any experience with it, it’s really hard to relate if you’ve never set foot on a farm,” said Stewart.
Do More Ag is developing a program for mental health professionals to learn about specific issues producers face.
Lethbridge County councillor Tory Campbell and Alberta NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet say more has to be done in the province to support organizations like Do More Ag.
“I think the situation is maybe even bigger than people realize,” said Campbell.
He said the impacts of this year’s drought are far from over.
“My ask is the same as the Rural Municipalities of Alberta. A 24-7 mental health hotline that producers can access at any time and they can speak to people who have a background not only in mental health but are well versed in agriculture,” said Campbell.
When it comes to existing services, “I don’t think there is a whole bunch out there,” said Campbell.
As the demands from consumers, industry and government change and grow, it adds to the stress faced by producers, added Campbell.
Sweet said these issues need to be addressed by the government.
“Talking to your neighbour is one thing but sometimes you need that professional to help you process the stress you are going through.”
The supports are needed now, she said, because what currently exists isn’t enough.
“So we need the government to put the funding in place and to make sure farmers and ranchers have access to a phone line they can call at any time when they feel like they need to talk.”
The House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food heard testimony in 2018 regarding the mental health issues faced by producers.
Among their 10 recommendations from that committee is that the federal government support the establishment of telephone help lines and e-health services for producers.
For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.