* Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on identifying and managing stress on the farm.
Stress on the farm: Watch for key warning signs
Stressors come in many forms for farmers and ranchers, whether it’s a time-wasting mechanical breakdown, weak market prices or an overall farm succession.
Though stress can be beneficial to a degree, too much of it can ultimately lead to physical or psychological damage if left unchecked, especially when negative coping strategies enter the equation.
Though stress is always present on most farms and ranches, some producers are more likely to experience negative stress. According to the National Agricultural Safety Database, the following groups are more likely to experience work-related stress:
- ● Younger producers, especially under age 50.
- ● Producers of both crops and livestock.
- ● Those with off-farm jobs.
- ● Farm women.
“In addition to the differences between how various operators experience stress, there are also common stressors that may be felt solely or more acutely by farm and ranch operators than by other segments of society,” says Kristin Reynolds, Ph.D., a food systems scholar at The New School in New York City, and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “These pertain to the nature of agricultural work, as well as the fact that farming and ranching are lifestyles, in addition to being professions.”
Different agricultural stressors
Much of the specific potential stress related to agriculture ties to control, or a lack thereof. The final arbiter in all crop production is Mother Nature. The influence of weather stretches from crop production to marketing and business planning, making it important to plan ahead for any potential outcome. Having these plans in place is one way to minimize stress.
“Weather and crop or livestock pests, illnesses and disease are fundamental risks in agriculture. Therefore, it is advisable to take steps to avoid negative consequences, and have a plan deal with weather-related setbacks when they occur,” Reynolds says.
Other major sources of potential stress on most farms include uncertainty of production/sales, urgency of seasonal work, integration of home and work life and the basic physical stress of producing crops or livestock.
“Rural people experience stress with cyclical farm crises, natural disasters and social isolation which can lead to mental health disorders. Some researchers have also examined role-related stress that is associated with the intergenerational transfer of farms,” according to a fact sheet from Oklahoma AgrAbility, a program that provides resources for that state’s farm and ranch families. “Intergenerational transfers may involve issues of authority, control, and the dividing of tasks and income.”
Warning signs of excessive stress
Other signs that stress may be mounting to harmful levels on a farm or ranch, according to Oklahoma AgrAbility, include:
- ● Changes in routines
- ● Increases in illness
- ● Changes in farm appearance or maintenance
- ● Declines in livestock care
- ● Increases in accidents on the farm
- ● Increases in signs of stress in children
If observing these or other warning signs in yourself or others close to you, the process of addressing the stress and minimizing its effects starts with a simple realization: You’re not alone.
“A lot of what producers need when times get rough is simply to know they are not alone – that others care about their welfare,” according to Denise Nelsen, an AgDirect® territory manager. “Taking time to listen and to ask questions can go a long way.”
Click for part two of this series – tips on how to manage stress on the farm.