Mental health is something that continues to get more attention in the world. Mental health in agriculture has not been discussed much until the last few years. Even when it received attention from the national media, it was because of agriculture and trade policies becoming a political football. Those who do not farm and have not been around a farm likely question how there are mental health issues associated with our profession. I am sure from the outside looking in, farming seems like a serene occupation and lifestyle.
I hate to be a killjoy, but it is not.
There are absolutely moments within farming that are Zen worthy, so to speak. There are few things I have found as calming and soul-building as watching a herd of cows grazing on grass (I know that probably seems weird); or looking over a perfect stand of corn a few days after emergence. Probably my favorite is a field of chest-high corn, even stand, no drowned-out spots, and deep green waving to me in the wind. Just as these things can bring joy and contentment, they can bring frustration and stress when things do not go right, and they often do not.
We get one chance every year to plant a crop right and have it get off to a successful start. Often, Mother Nature does not help get that done. 2019 brought more frustration than I ever recall. While rain does indeed make grain, you can get too much of a good thing. Add to the frustrations Mother Nature gives us the current social uncertainty; unprecedented black swan market events; and political shenanigans. I think most of us entered this spring a little on edge. With the decline in the markets we saw just prior to planting, we knew for us to make money things needed to go right. Well, like her usual temperamental self, Mother Nature has had a few tricks up her sleeve this spring. Abnormally cold temperatures slowed emergence and a frost/freeze event like we had not seen in some time did damage that can only be repaired by planting again. Now, we have seen excessive rainfall, and I am sure we will have some damage from standing water. We will need to replant some crops to fix those areas, and work toward preparing crops that have not been planted, sprayed, or fertilized like we would like.
I know what you’re thinking; an article by a farmer complaining about his job. How original. My point is not to complain. I love what I do, as do most of us in production agriculture. We knew it was not easy when we chose this life. My intention is to encourage those who do not farm to reach out to their farmer friends and to make sure they are OK. Sometimes we need an ear, but we are an awfully proud lot. We do not like to bother others with our frustration, our concerns, and our fears. We may not talk about it with our spouses to not add to their worries. We may not talk about it with others, just out of pride. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on occasionally. Well, maybe not everyone, but most. My point to my fellow farmers is talk to someone. They may not be able to fix your problems. However, just addressing them can be helpful.
Vince Lombardi once said, “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” We all have different circumstances, different weather, different equipment, different amounts of labor. All we can do is the best that we can do.
Jonathan Sparks is a Hancock County farmer and a board member for the Indiana Farm Bureau.