Modern-day pressures for farmers contributing to rising suicide risk

Posted at 10:49 PM, Sep 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-20 16:57:03-04

The plight of the modern-day farmer is not what it used to be.

"There are tremendous amount of outside pressures coming to our producers that previous generations didn't have to deal with," said Rick Naerebout, CEO of the Idaho Dairymen Assocation.

A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that farmers are more likely to take their own lives than those in any other U.S. occupational group.

Why? Naerebout believes there are a few reasons-- starting with a larger demand for transparency, including specialized auditors with checklists surveying their every move.

"Often there are multiple audits-- you can have an audit for an environmental practice, and then a couple months later, have another audit for worker training and safety. So you have all those pressures and all those expenses that are starting to pile up at the farm level."

Expenses that their predecessors did not necessarily have.

 "They have to be exceptional business people that can understand how to hedge milk and feed, and, and, it's a very complex business, to where, no longer can you really succeed by just being a good cow person-- you have to be a great business manager, a great H.R. person."

International trade disputes, he says, are also causing tough times.

"We've seen over a 50 cent per 100 weight drop in milk price, which is a significant drop," he said.

And as more and more large farms invest in technologies, like robots that boost production, smaller farms struggle to keep up.

"If you're in a situation where you can't afford to implement those technologies, then it is going to add stress to you and to your operation."

Then-- something we can all relate to-- he says there's also that fear of disappointing your loved ones. In Idaho, every dairy farm is owned and operated by a family. Many of them were established several decades ago.

"If you are that generation where you maybe lose that generational business that's been in your family for a hundred years, that is a tremendous amount of stress to possibly have that family business end with you."

But he also says that can work in both ways-- that family and friends in the industry are also what gets them through the tough times.

If you're in the industry and need someone to talk to, you can call (800) FARM-AID, or (800) 327-6243, to speak with Farm Aid staffers Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.