By Trisha Wagner and John Shutske
Stress is common in dairy farming. The long hours can sometimes lead to fatigue, especially if there is not enough help. A feeling of a lack of control during changing times and conditions can compound the feeling of uncertainty. Other things that can cause stress are issues related to your kids, relationships, markets, the weather and situations you are not able to control.
Stress can negatively affect our health, our sleep, our relationships and our communication with others. When we are stressed or distracted, it also increases risk for a farm injury or making some type of other mistake. Sometimes, we are experiencing things that are causing stress and may not even realize it, though others might see that we seem unhappy, grouchy, tired or just “different” than we once were.
Because of these effects, it is important to recognize and work to positively address, not avoid, the causes of stress. Experts recommend farmers take stock of their farm business to make informed decisions about the future. To “take stock” of something is to think carefully about a situation and clearly understand it, so you can decide what to do. Farmers may lament doing this because they feel the outcome will be negative; however, it is a first step to addressing the stress caused by uncertainty, and it puts you on the path to take control of decisions. It may also reveal options you may not have considered.
To take stock of your current operation, use important resources such as a calculation of your cost of production and your farm balance sheet. You can contact your Extension office for help with calculating cost of production and creating your balance sheet. If you have a loan, you can also access your balance sheet from your lender.
• An accurate calculation of your cost of production may reveal expenses that may be high relative to your peers. A plan to address such issues should be presented to your lender.
• From your balance sheet, it is possible to determine your debt relative to your assets. Depending on your debt-to-asset ratio, you may determine that an operating loan is feasible, or perhaps undesirable.
• Re-evaluating your current enterprise may reveal opportunities to enhance cash flow, or alternatives to maintain the farm assets that are most important to you and your family. This may mean selling or renting some assets and keeping the farm in the family.
When stress becomes overwhelming, it is important to recognize the harmful effects and to take action. For resources on recognizing signs and symptoms of chronic or severe stress, visit agsafety.info.
Sometimes people cannot recognize signs of stress in themselves, and others might sense something is wrong but may not know how to bring it up. Start the conversation by talking with your family and friends about stress and the changes that might need to happen at home. Resilient families view crisis as a shared challenge, instead of having each person be a “tough, rugged individual,” getting through hard times. They believe that by joining together with family members and others who are important to the family, they can strengthen their ability to meet challenges. For more information on family communication to work together on managing stressful times and family finances, visit this University of Wisconsin-Extension webpage.
If any person on your farm expresses the signs and symptoms of extreme stress and talks about harming themselves or ending their life, it is important to provide help and support. The most important resource for support anywhere in the U.S. is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, accessible for English-speaking people at 800-273-8255 or in Spanish at 888-628-9454. See suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.
Wagner is the Extension farm management program coordinator. Shutske is a UW-Extension ag safety specialist. Steve Okonek, Trempealeau County Extension ag agent, contributed to this column. This column is provided by the UW-Extension Dairy Team.