Feeling stressed? How to cope with the pressures of farming

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There are numerous indicators showing that changes are happening in farm business management. Nothing too surprising about that.

I experienced one recently when I had the opportunity to facilitate a peer group meeting. There were 12 people: some younger, others seasoned, representing eight farms.

The change that I witnessed was the willingness of those at the meeting to take time during a busy season to focus discussion on farm management.

This would have been very unusual not that many years ago.

The discussion was wide ranging with one topic being particularly of interest as we enter a busy harvest season although the issue exists throughout the year: how do people deal with stress?

First, there was consensus within the group that stress can be a real issue. Here are some of the comments:

  • Farmers with a strong agronomy background are trained to see the problems, the insects and disease, which can increase their stress levels. The field might be very good but they can get fixated on the problems. There’s a saying that perfection is the enemy of good enough. The challenge for all of us is finding an acceptable “good enough.”
  • The younger participants acknowledged that the obligation (perceived or real) to do what the previous generation did adds to the pressure at times. They commented that, while this was a reality for many, they were of the collective mindset that they had to do things in a way that worked for them.
  • Twitter and social media can add stress, especially when someone is having a challenging day and not getting as much done as they “should” be getting done. For example, the drill being used should be able to seed more than 200 acres a day, but for whatever reason, only 100 acres got seeded. Now you read on Twitter that others got 250 acres done.
  • Phones “on” or “off” got some discussion, although most in attendance left their phones on. I’ve talked to many farm families about this and have found few who turn phones off at a certain time. The general comment is that it helps to separate “personal/family” from the “business,” although it takes some getting used to and that there can be issues with it. Obviously, there are no perfect solutions.
  • A comment about capitalization and stress garnered quite a bit of discussion. Some said they were carrying excess seeding and harvesting equipment to compensate for shorter seasons because of weather events. This helped with stress levels associated with production challenges but could on the other hand contribute to financial stress, especially if the additional equipment included more debt.
  • Of course, everyone agreed that there is stress associated with accountability and decision-making. However, this comes with the territory and becomes a real concern only when it starts to negatively affect productivity.
  • Many suggested time away from the farm helped to manage stress. However, there was an identified feeling of guilt associated with being away while others were working or situations where their absence meant things weren’t getting done. One comment was that it was important to keep things in perspective and time away more than compensated for work not getting done.

Second, they agreed there were no magic solutions. Everyone experienced stress. It’s unavoidable.

The one common comment was about the benefit of communication in dealing with the pressures of owning and managing a farm.

Sometimes it is difficult to do, but when achieved, purposeful communication helps when dealing with the issues and challenges associated with farming, which in turn helps in managing stress levels.

Terry Betker is a farm management consultant based in Winnipeg. He can be reached at 204-782-8200 or terry.betker@backswath.com.

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