Extension Calling: Farm Stress

Extension Calling is a weekly radio broadcast done in collaboration between The Ohio State University and West Virginia University. Christine Gelley of Noble County OSU Extension joined host, Dan Lima of Belmont County OSU Extension for the show on Sunday, April 7 focusing on healthy ways to cope with farm stress.

Listen here: http://extensioncalling.libsyn.com/dealing-with-farm-stress.

The Farmer’s Line Between Stressed and Depressed

This article was originally published in The Journal  on April 1, 2019.

For many people living in temperate climates, there is a feeling of relief that comes with the change of the seasons from winter to spring.

In fact, according to Mental Health America, five percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD or seasonal depression). People diagnosed with SAD often experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, lethargy, weight gain, and/or social difficulties that are caused by reduced levels of serotonin and increased levels of melatonin. Both can be related to fewer hours of light in the day. Seasonal affective disorder subsides when light hours increase and life returns to normal for these individuals.

People in all lifestyles experience varying moods related to stress and environmental conditions. Some are completely normal and others may be chronic issues that influence mental and physical health.

The farming community is no exception.

In fact, people in agriculture are at a high risk for mental health issues when compared to the general population. Justification for this is related to the levels of stress farmers carry with them day to day and year to year.

Many farmers cope with their stress alone, which can compound the symptoms of anxiety and depression to unmanageable levels. It is startling that the rates of suicide among agricultural workers are up fifty percent compared to what they were in the 1980s during the farm crisis.

Mental health issues, like SAD, anxiety, and depression, can be very difficult to recognize early on and may persist for years before diagnosis. Fewer than fifty percent of Americans with mental health concerns seek treatment for their symptoms.

The line between feeling stressed and being depressed can be illusive. Some signs of stress shifting from normal to abnormal include a combination of these symptoms: sleep, appetite, and mood changes; reclusiveness, nervousness, and difficulty concentrating; illogical decision making; increased sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, or touch.

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described here, it is advisable to talk about them with your doctor and close people you trust.

Mental health services for farmers are being brought to national attention and are included in the new Farm Bill. Senate Bill 2712 requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a grant program and a National Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to help coordinate efforts to address the lack of mental health services in rural communities across the country. These grants can be dispersed to state agricultural departments, extension services, and non-profit organizations.

Looking into the future, Noble County OSU Extension will be working to coordinate stress assistance efforts locally for our farmers.

As your local Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources, I cannot provide personal advice on mental health concerns, but I will advocate for your access to resources that can and will provide you with the services you deserve.

Additional information about stress management is available from OSU Extension online at: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5242.







Where is everybody under 65?

This article was originally published in The Journal  on February 11, 2019 and republished by The Firelands Farmer. 

Last Monday night, I was in another county helping my colleagues teach a recertification class. All of the attendees had previously completed an initial training to certify their ability to use fertilizer and/or pesticides appropriately and were due to renew their licenses to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

We had a dozen people in the audience, most who have been through multiple three-year cycles of recertification since their initial licensing.

During a break between topics, one of them pulled me aside and asked, “Where is everybody under 65?”

We looked around, and noticed that the majority of the audience was near or past the average retirement age.

“I ask myself the same thing regularly,” I told him.

The truth is that across our country the average age of the American farmer continues to creep up year after year. They are continuing to farm well into retirement. They are experienced, capable, and knowledgeable, but the clock is ticking on how much longer they can carry the weight of feeding America. Eventually, they will retire or pass on and a new generation of farm managers will inherit their responsibilities.

In our region of Ohio, many of those farmers that are positioned to fill their shoes work a full-time, off-farm job. They often are working in partnership with an older relative, a sibling, or their own children. Schedules are tight, money is tight, and daylight hours are gone too soon.

In the midst of all those factors, it is understandable that other tasks are of higher priority than attending a class on one of the rare evenings they have free. At the same time, these farmers probably need the help of Extension the most.

Family farm relationships can be challenging; learning how to calibrate a sprayer can be mind-boggling; keeping farm records up to date can be difficult; calculating which type of lime is the best value can be confusing. That is what Extension is here for, to help farmers develop these kinds of skills.

Do you farm in partnership with someone that fits this description? If so, please encourage them to utilize the services Extension has to offer. It is crucial for the future of agriculture that we reinforce an understanding and appreciation for the value of the next generation of farm managers. We want to see an influx of 20, 30, 40-something aged farmers at our programs.

Educators like myself are trying to reach out to those younger farmers to get them the tools they need to be successful. Our resources are available through one-on-one interactions in the office or the field, workshops, field days, fact sheets, videos, podcasts, and social media.

So, share the information with your young farmer friends, encourage them to go to the trainings, and maybe offer to take their kids to sports practice and ice cream while they spend a few hours polishing their skills.

You need them for the future of your farm and America needs them for the future of food.

Find information about first-timer trainings for Pesticide and Fertilizer Applicator Certifications, Beef Quality Assurance, A.I. School, and more below and online at www.noble.osu.edu. Call or email Christine at 740-732-5681 or gelley.2@osu.edu to learn more.

The Crockpot Approach

This article was originally published in The Journal on January 21, 2019.

In last week’s column, I shared some of the insights gained from attending the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Conference and promised to continue this week. The story I shared last week was about forage tragedy and triumph. This weeks’ is about getting started farming without inheriting it or marrying it.

Two beef producers led the session I attended on this topic. Wesley Tucker, an Ag Economist for University of Missouri Extension, shared his story of starting from scratch, as did Dr. Jason Salchow, who is a veterinarian and custom grazer. The approaches they used were very different.

Mr. Tucker had farmed with his father as a young adult, but one day his dad said, “Son, this farm isn’t big enough for the both of us.” So, he started his own beef operation without owning any land.

His strategy was to rent as much grazable land as he could handle and rotate his cattle from one place to another. He would calculate the cost of feeding hay and the cost of renting the land. If the land was cheaper than buying hay, then he determined it was worth the cost to rent. Although it had many challenges, the system worked and he turned a profit. However, at the end of his presentation he said, “I have failed.”

When he first started this system, he was single and had time to run from one rental site to another checking cattle. After starting a family, he took his daughter along with him. She enjoyed helping move temporary fence and riding in the truck. His daughter is now ten years old and according to Mr. Tucker, “she hates the farm.” He continued to say, “I have failed because my daughter hates the farm. She hates it because instead of spending dedicated time with her, I’m checking cows before and after work.”

The take home message of his story was to be smart and economical, but don’t forget that your time has value too. You should be careful how you spend it.

Dr. Salchow, on the other hand, tried something different. He grew up in a farm family and decided to become a veterinarian. In the process, he accumulated a large amount of student loan debt, started a family, and soon realized that veterinary medicine was not his true calling. He made a rash decision to quit the practice, buy back part of his family’s farm, and focus on beef production. He shared that he does not recommend that exact strategy, but he does recommend perseverance and patience.

The past 20 years have been a long rough road for Dr. Salchow, his wife, and five children to get to where they are today. Currently they farm as custom grazers. They own the land and graze it with other people’s cattle. All their clients make monthly payments for their grazing services based on average daily gains. Clients maintain the liability for animal health and the Salchows maintain the liability for the land.

His wife maintains the records and he maintains the pastures and cattle. They are making money, they have gained the trust of their clients, and they are expanding. He continued to share that expanding would be a lot easier if his family’s farm hadn’t been separated by the previous generation in a divorce.

The leading cause of farm fragmentation in the U.S. is not urbanization, but rather death, divorce, and a family that cannot compromise. Dr. Salchow lamented over the loss of the American family farm by saying, “If you want to be successful on the farm, go home and love your wife. We have to be better husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. There is no success outside the home that can compromise for failure in the home.”

A fellow member of the audience tied Dr. Salchow’s comments back to liability insurance, to say that the best liability insurance you can hold for your farm is a good relationship with your family. That is the glue that holds the farm together.

Dr. Salchow’s take home message was that success in farming is like a crockpot, not a microwave. He said, “Everyone wants quick results, like a microwave. But, nothing good comes out of a microwave. A crockpot on the other hand, that’s what the good stuff comes out of, but you have to cook it low and slow.”

My advice for you after attending this session is to consider both of these producer’s approaches, their struggles, and their successes.

Neither presentation was about the animals or land as much as they were about relationships with your neighbors and your family. Success in agriculture requires capital, but it is built on perseverance and trust. Trust takes time to develop and perseverance is what drives the crockpot approach to success. Take the time to build trusting relationships with your family, neighbors, and clients. Those relationships are like insurance for your current struggles and future successes.