He choked back tears sharing how his wife recently passed away. “For the first two weeks, I held it all in and I almost exploded.” Watching American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall was hard.
The tears he shed on stage at this year’s Commodity Classic were those of joy. Those of loving someone, of missing someone. We’ve all been there, done that.
And his experience is like many farmers and ranchers across the country. When something difficult comes our way, we just bottle it up. According to a 2019 Farm Bureau survey, nearly 1 in 3 farmers do not feel comfortable talking to friends or family members about mental health issues. But Duvall wants to change that.
“I started talking. It made me feel better,” he says. Today, he urges farmers to do the same. “We love our farmers and neighbors,” he says. “We want them to find help.”
New mental health movement
Duvall, along with Lisa Safarian, president of Bayer Crop Science North America, announced the transition of Bayer’s Farm State of Mind campaign to Farm Bureau. The campaign started during Mental Health Month in May and included a Twitter and Facebook campaign to open dialogue with farmers and ranchers around the issue of mental health. People shared their struggles and successes with #FarmStateofMind. The campaign grew.
“It was important for us to provide information and resources on the topic to those who needed it,” Safarian says, “but we quickly realized that this issue is much bigger than any one single company, and no group is better positioned than Farm Bureau to take the lead.”
Farm State of Mind will be added to American Farm Bureau's Rural Resilience initiative, which offers a website hub of information and contacts to help farmers and ranchers deal with mental health issues. Combining the two, Duvall says, will “open up lines of communication” between farmers, ranchers and mental health professionals.
What farmers face
There is a lot to talk about. Challenging weather, destructive pests, trade disputes and market volatility are stressful on the farm. But Duvall admits he is really concerned for younger farmers.
“Put yourself in the position of the young farmer coming into an industry early, like 2011 or 2012 with good commodity prices, starting with all kinds of excitement and energy, and then having the rug pulled out from under you,” he says. “We have to really pay attention, not only to all our farmers, but especially those young farmers who are totally stressed and have not had the opportunity to experience this before.”
Duvall adds that the agriculture community cannot allow farmers to carry the burden alone. “We need to talk about it to each other,” he says. “We need to lean on each other.”
Bayer is providing a financial contribution to Farm Bureau to support the transition and success of Farm State of Mind. The transition is expected to be completed by April.
I truly believe this third-generation farmer when he says the American Farm Bureau is proud to take on this responsibility. It is not just some press conference fluff.
“We are a family of farmers and rural people," Duvall says. "If we can do one thing that can change a farmer’s life to make it better, it has all been worth the effort we put forward.”
A message from a farmer, who faced adversity and shared his heart with the hope of encouraging others.
For more on Farm State of Mind, visit Rural Resilience online.