In talking to farmers across the Midwest, Jolene Brown, a professional speaker and family business consultant, offers some unexpected advice to those overwhelmed by the stress of cultivating the land.
Call your family doctor, and she’ll say. “When you make the appointment, tell them you have a sore throat.”
A sore throat?
The farmer will look at her awkwardly.
Yes, she will assure them, a sore throat.
“Once you get into the office with the doctor, tell the doctor what you’ve told me, that you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re anxious all the time, often irritated,” she says.
To a farmer, a sore throat or another physical ailment is a legitimate reason to see a doctor. And farmers are more likely to make the appointment with a physical ailment as an excuse than to say they’re depressed, she adds. They might not even know they’re depressed. Once they see the doctor, they might open up — and the doctor could direct them to a counselor or other clinician, Brown says.
“I want people to first look into the mirror and take care of themselves, and then their families,” she says.
Reaching out to check on neighbors is critical as well, Brown notes.
Many stressors combine in tough year
Calling this a “tipping-point year,” she referred to the various 2019 stressors for farmers, including weather that delayed or prevented planting, international tariffs that have decreased demand for agricultural goods, and low prices for agricultural commodities.
She leans toward the unconventional in her approach to farm families who come to her trying to improve their businesses. She will present “Stop Fighting on the Way to the Funeral Home,” a talk for attendees at the Farm Science Review near London, Ohio, from 1 to 2 p.m. Sept. 18 and again from 10 to 11 a.m. Sept. 19. FSR is sponsored by Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
In her presentation, Brown will share the mistakes families make that break up their businesses. In economically challenging times, farmers especially need a solid foundation for their businesses, she says.
“This is not a year when we can say, ‘Hang on for another two months, and we’ll be back where we were,’” says Brown, who, together with her husband, farms corn and soybeans in Iowa.
One season of low commodity prices or one season of weather that affects yields can be dealt with, but some farmers have been struggling for several years. Thus, they need to focus on what they can control or change about their business to do better, Brown says.
The most common mistake that proprietors of family-owned farms make is that they operate as a “family-first business,” she says.
That means they make decisions based on habits and assumptions, while ignoring business realities and conflict.
“By having a business-first family, you honor your family by doing the business right,” she says. “You can increase your productivity, profitability and peace of mind. And you can still sit together at the holiday table.”
Brown will give her talks in the Celebration Tent at the west end of the Farm Science Review grounds at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center.
Online tickets and access to the online directory are now available for Farm Science Review, which typically draws more than 100,000 people throughout its three days.
FSR hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 17-18, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 19. Tickets for the event are $7 online, and at Ohio State University Extension county offices and participating agribusinesses; or $10 at the gate. Children ages 5 and under are free. OSU Extension is CFAES’ outreach arm. For more information, visit fsr.osu.edu.