The recent collapse in commodity prices are putting a damper on agriculture’s bottom line, which can lead to challenges, especially between a farmer and their family.
Lower commodity prices and recent unfavorable weather have upped the stress level in farmers all over the country, and 2 experts at Kansas State University want you to know it’s normal, and it’s okay to seek help in dealing with challenges, many of which are unique to farming. (photo from fyi.uwex.edu)
Mental health can be overlooked in the day-to-day challenges of farming. During the down cycles, which are typical for agriculture, it’s more important than ever that farmers take care of themselves and their families. Mental health experts at Kansas State University say it’s easier to fight through the tough times together, rather than trying to do everything yourself.
“Typically, when we hear from people, it’s not one stress but a pileup of different things that are happening,” said Charlie Griffin, a Research Assistant Professor in the Kansas State University School of Family Studies and Human Services. “Financial issues, weather issues, the daily issues that always crop up like the combine breaking down at harvest time, and they all pile up simultaneously.”
Charlie Griffin is a Research Assistant Professor of Programs for Workplace solutions in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University. (Photo from k-state.edu)
He added, “That’s when we really start to hear from people.”
Griffin said different sectors of agriculture could experience stressors while other sectors are succeeding.
“It depends on who you’re talking to and what sector (of Ag) you’re talking about,” said Griffin. “Throughout my time in agriculture, I’ve realized what may be good for livestock farmers may not be good for crop farmers, and vice versa. But if you look at the folks that are diversified, they can balance back and forth one way or the other.”
Griffin adds, “The livestock farmers I’ve talked to are doing really well.”
Lower crop prices can typically bring on the most stress during the winter.
“I start hearing the stress from prices in early winter,” said Griffin, “when people finally sit down and add up their bills and their income, look at government payments, all to get ready for taxes, and that’s when the big picture comes along.”
Griffin said when crop prices take a big tumble, the temptation may be to draw comparisons to the farm crisis in the 1980’s. He said those conditions will always be hard to duplicate.
“I’m going to say the early 80’s were the perfect storm for agriculture,” said Griffin. “Everything went the wrong direction at the wrong time. Interest rates were sky high, people were borrowing big time to expand, prices fell out, input costs jumped, and the weather played havoc. Agriculture was hit hard.”
He added, “But the big thing was what happened in the banking industry. With people so dependent on borrowed money to operate from year-to-year, the banking industry changed how it was regulated. Bankers began to call in loans because they didn’t have enough collateral to cover it due to the drop in land prices. Everyone said that would never happen.
“We’ve certainly never seen anything like that again,” said Griffin.
Griffin said farmers are a very resilient bunch, but there are strategies he recommends for farm families to get through the lean years successfully.
“Be tight on your financial management,” said Griffin. “Make sure you’ve got some way of staying on top of it, including using a financial planner or manager if you need one. After all, the stress you know is a whole lot easier to manage than a vague stress you don’t know.
“The people who handle their stress better are those who go out and access resources,” said Griffin. “They go to Extension meetings, workshops, trainings, and they hire the kind of input they need. They’re learning how to do things better.”
Griffin said the other side of the coin is family communication. It’s all about how you’re handling any stress between you and your spouse, or any other family members in the operation.
“The important thing to remember is communication between family members takes work,” said Charlotte Shoup-Olsen. “It needs the most work and attention when things aren’t going well. That’s when arguments tend to happen.”
Charlotte Shoup Olsen is Professor/Extension Specialist in the College of Human Ecology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.
Disagreements are inevitable in family and business relationships, but it’s important to handle them correctly.
“Always be respectful in your communication with each other, even when you disagree,” said Shoup-Olsen. “You can disagree and still be respectful. In other words, you don’t call each other names, you don’t put them down with sarcasm, and you just be respectful.”
She said listening skills are a big key to resolving differences.
“Listen with the intent to try to understand where the other person is coming from,” said Shoup-Olsen. “Often times, in a bad conversation, you’re listening to see when you can pounce on something the other person said.”
She added, “It’s best if both parties take turns speaking and listening to each other, and doing so respectfully.”
Griffin said should the occasion arise where families are having a hard time talking, it’s important to get help.
“If you can’t sit down and talk about things in an adult way and successfully, the best thing you can do is get someone from the outside to help you,” said Griffin. “Not necessarily a therapist, but someone who can sit in and dialogue with the whole family and answer questions.”