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Tools for farmers to navigate stress, uncertainties

Purdue Extension is working to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in agriculture.

Elysia Rodgers who is part of Purdue Extension’s Farm Stress Team says commodity prices, ag inputs, and family dynamics on the farm are just a few of the uncertainties farmers face every year that can lead to stress.

“The last few years have been anything but normal and I don’t know if there is a real normal anymore in terms of the weather especially in the spring trying to get our crops planted. So that’s what a lot of our crop producers are coming against right now—what is this spring going to look like,” she says. “Also, market prices are looking pretty strong but the biggest issue we have to think about with those strong crop prices is that they also increase our livestock feed prices. We also have to look at the fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide costs for our crops this year as well. Lastly, family dynamics are always going to be a challenge whether you’re farming with family or trying to get non-farming family members to understand what you’re doing.”

Abby Heidenreich, an ag and natural resources educator in Orange County, says there are several signs and symptoms of stress.

“We talk about chronic stress versus acute stress, we talk bout recurring signs of stress, and then the signs that are a lot more serious,” she says. “They manifest in different ways, so we see some of the physical signs— we see increased illness and injury, overeating or not eating enough, getting too much sleep or not enough sleep. But, we also see a lot of emotional and inaction symptoms as well like being angry, lashing out in ways we normally wouldn’t, and being on a mood swing pendulum.”

She says stress can also cause farmers to change routines and stop doing the things they enjoy.   

Rachel Dillhoff, a health and human sciences educator in Adams County, says stress can increase cortisol levels.

“That can then increase risks of heart disease and depression,” she says. “It starts at that chemical level of what we experience, then our body reacts to it, and then it’s a snowball effect.” 

The Purdue Extension Farm Stress Team is offering virtual programs, workshops, and resources – including a podcast, Tools for Today’s Farmers– to help farmers navigate these challenges and recognize stress. The team also offers two programs including Communicating with Farmers Under Stress, a four-hour program geared toward people who work with farmers and ranchers, and Weathering the Storm, a one-hour program for farmers and ranchers.

Website: extension.purdue.edu/farmstress

Facebook page: facebook.com/PurdueFarmStressTeam/

Audio: Abby Heidenreich, Elysia Rodgers, and Rachel Dillhoff

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