[TW Suicide] Farmers and Suicide: ‘Counselors Say They’ve Heard the Pistol Being Cocked Over the Phone’
At a time many small farms and their owners are struggling with so many problems, new solutions are emerging.
Farmers and Suicide: ‘Counselors Say They’ve Heard the Pistol Being Cocked Over the Phone’
At a time many small farms and their owners are struggling with so many problems, new solutions are emerging
Farming is all that Sandy Rivers (not her real name) has ever known. She grew up in northern New York and has spent her entire life living and working on a farm. Times right now are tough — both for her and for many other small farming operations across the country.
Prices are down, stress is high, tariffs are in limbo, and business contracts are down, too.
But it’s always been a challenging profession, Rivers told LifeZette. Even during some of the most economically successful years, she and other farmers “do what they have to do to keep going,” as she put it.
For Rivers, that includes running the farm that she and her husband — who is now gone — built together. Tragically, her husband took his own life in January 2010 on their dairy farm.
“It’s really difficult. We still have some of the bloodline [the dairy herd] that my husband and I started,” she told LifeZette. “We still have milking cows. I still have the barn running, and the fields are being cropped,” she said, adding. “This is all I’ve ever known. But I feel increasingly pushed off the farm” by the stressors mentioned above.
Of her husband, she told LifeZette, “I was very proud of him, despite everything that went down. He took a tough situation, and he battled as long and as hard as he could. He was really brilliant. We all still miss him.”
Rivers isn’t alone. The uncertainties facing many small family farms are almost tangible across the rural United States.
In the past three years, farm income levels have hit their lowest point since 1985, according to Kansas Wheat, an advocacy group for Kansas wheat farmers. From 2014 to 2015, farm income dropped 95 percent, and farm debt levels have increased by 25 percent. Farmers are spending a tremendous amount of money, with little revenue in return.
Joel Greeno, a farmer in southwest Wisconsin and president of Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin, says he almost hates to answer the phone these days because the stories he hears from neighbors in dire straits are terrible — and the resources to help them are few.
“I think Farm Aid doubled its amount of emergency funding available for farmers this year already,” he told LifeZette, adding that crisis calls have been off the charts, at levels he hasn’t seen in 30 years of working with the organization. A network of musicians formed Farm Aid back in the ’80s to help protect family farms; the first concert the group held was in Illinois in 1985.
“It’s just tough,” Greeno added. “All these people know is life on the farm, and there are just no options. You offer them what hope and consolation you can — the government is proposing a $12 billion allotment for farm handouts, but dairy alone could absorb all that money without having to split it up among all the other farm sectors.”