Hard choices in the heartland: Farmers Need to Manage Stress


Carla Nemecek is Southwind District Director and agent.

Submitted by; Carla Nemecek, Southwind Extension District Director

For Release: Week of October 22, 2018

Unpredictable weather, falling net farm income, spotty health care services and a host of other factors can make for incredible stress on farms and in rural communities. Many of the factors causing sleepless nights are beyond an individual’s control, yet there are often ways to manage the stress, according to North Dakota State University family science specialist Sean Brotherson.

“People will power through even if they don’t feel well,” said Brotherson, speaking at a recent K-State Research and Extension workshop in Manhattan. “There’s a cost to that. You can’t put your health or relationships on the back end for long without consequences.”

The most important asset of any agricultural operation is the health and wellness of the farm operator, said Brotherson, who also presented a workshop on the same topic in Dodge City.

Farming and ranching ranks in the top 10 of the most stressful occupations. That stress can lead to depression, anger, health concerns, failed marriages, loss of friendships or relationships with family members, alcohol or substance abuse or worse.

“When we talk about farm safety, we often talk about accident prevention but we tend to neglect talk about mental and emotional health,” Brotherson said, adding that’s a mistake.

Despite the overall U.S. economy booming, the farm economy has been in a slump the past several years: “This great economic condition is not translating into a good farm economy. Many farmers are very good at what they do, yet some still find themselves in situations that they can’t control,” Brotherson said.

Net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is forecast to decrease $9.8 billion (13.0 percent) from 2017 to $65.7 billion in 2018, after increasing $13.9 billion (22.5 percent) in 2017, according to an August report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Net cash farm income is forecast to decrease $12.4 billion (12.0 percent) to $91.5 billion. In inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars, net farm income is forecast to decline $11.4 billion (14.8 percent) from 2017 after increasing $13.0 billion (20.3 percent) in 2017.

If realized, inflation-adjusted net farm income would be just slightly above its level in 2016, which was its lowest level since 2002.

The situation is taking a toll, Brotherson said. Some feel extra pressure because their farm has been in the family for generations and they don’t want to be the one to lose it.

“Stress signals are like the warning lights blinking on your truck’s dashboard,” Brotherson said. “We often want to ignore them but at some point there is a price to pay – a heart attack, broken relationships, depression or worse. You maintain your car to keep it running properly. You have to maintain your health, too.”

Coping strategies include things that help you unwind, include exercise, getting enough sleep, hobbies, or reaching out to someone for support or help – a friend, a counselor, or a loved one.

K-State Research and Extension has teamed with NDSU’s Brotherson to share resources linked to farm stress management including a tip sheet. In addition, K-State programs such as the Farm Analyst program, Kansas Agricultural Mediation Service and Kansas Farm Management Association are available to work with rural enterprises.

Contact the Southwind Extension District at 620-365-2242 for more information. Your health matters too us.



Carla Nemecek
Southwind Extension District
Director & Agent
[email protected]
1 North Washington, Iola, KS 66749

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