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Know 7 warning signs of farm stress

Farmers and ranchers are going through tough times, which leads to higher stress levels.

August 19, 2022

4 Min Read
Upset female farmer standing outdoors near empty stall
AFFECTS ALL: Stress does not know the difference in age or gender. Pay attention to your parents, spouse and children who work on the farm. Look for the seven signs of farm stress.JackF/Getty Images

I could hear it in the tone of her voice. It was lighter, airier, happier, simply less stressed.

I’ve talked to my youngest daughter every week, sometimes daily over the past three years. She had a great job, a happy marriage and was living life. But it wasn’t until she moved to Florida that I realized, I missed truly how much stress she had at her job.

We raised our daughters with a work ethic, one I am beginning to believe is far more taxing than others. We told them to work hard, do more than the next guy — be the “go-to person” at your job. She was.

Long hours overseeing projects, parts of Sundays spent at work to ensure cell lines remained viable and increased responsibilities became her normal. There were weeks she looked more tired than others, but haven’t we all? To me, it was a sign that she was a great worker. But work overtook life, and it became unbalanced.

The lives farmers lead are no different. It is by far the occupation that likely established the terminology of work ethic, better yet a hard work ethic. We expect the best, so we put in the most.

Our family, no, our state, wait, the world relies on us to feed and clothe them and provide fuel. Farming is a stressful job. And we will not let them see us stressed.

Unfortunately, too often farmers are so entrenched in their jobs that they can’t recognize the signs of stress. And sometimes, like me, it is hard for even those close to farmers to see the signs of stress.

Stress has levels

Stress is not always a bad thing. Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension. It can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry or nervous. It often triggers your body to react to a challenge or demand.

In short bursts, stress can be positive, like when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it can harm your health. So it is not something to brush aside.

To be clear, stress is not something just for the older generation. It affects our younger generation as well. Watch for signs across the ages.

The NY Farm Net, which is part of the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offers support to farmers and farm families. It offers the following seven signs of stress:

1. Change in routines. Farmers or members of the farm family may change who attends a market, stop attending regular meetings or religious activities, drop out of other groups, or fail to stop at the local coffee shop or feed mill.

2. Decline in the care of domestic animals. Livestock or pets may not be cared for in the usual way.

3. Increase in illness. Farmers or farm family members may experience more upper respiratory illnesses (cold, flu) or other chronic conditions (aches, pains, persistent cough, migraines).

4. Increase in farm accidents. The risk of farm accidents increases with fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate. Children may be at risk if there isn’t alternative child care.

5. Decline in appearance of farmstead. The farm family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and grounds appear.

6. Signs of stress in children. Farm children may act out, show a decline in academic performance, or be increasingly absent from school. They may also show signs of physical abuse or neglect or become depressed.

7. Decreased interest. Farmers or farm families may be less willing to commit to future activities, sign up for gatherings or show interest in community events.

Help a call away

Missouri launches the AgriStress Helpline for farmers and ranchers who need to talk. Read directly from Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn on how this new help line works. 

With one call, farmers can talk with a professional who understands agriculture. It may be the one call you or your farmer needs.

After only one week at her new job, my daughter called. And that conversation was upbeat, joyful and content. Those pangs of frustration, anxiety and, at times, silence — gone.

Like many parents, no matter the age of your kid, I wished I would’ve seen the signs earlier, that I could’ve provided more solace.

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