Farmers in the US are facing a myriad of challenges these days, and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report showing that such stress is taking a deadly toll.
While the suicide rates of Americans in all demographics have been on the rise over the last 30 years, farmers have the highest rate of suicide than any other occupation — five times that of the rest of the US population.
What's going on?
Agriculture expert Chris Hurt describes the situation with this scenario: "Think about trying to live today on the income you had 15 years ago."
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average farm's income for 2018 is projected to be 35 percent below what it was in 2013. There's been a gradual decline in farm income ever since that year.
It's reminiscent of the farm crisis America faced in the 80's, according to Farm Aid communications director Jennifer Fahy: "The farm crisis was so bad there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression." Referring to today's crisis, Fahy adds, "I think it's actually worse."
Co-director of the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis at the University of Chicago, Alana Knudson explained the issue further, saying, "We've spoken to dairy farmers who are losing money on every pound of milk they sell. A lot of our farmers take out operating loans so they can buy seed, fertilizer and spray."
Tariffs on ag products, rising interest rates, lower commodity prices, high regulations and loss of resources in rural areas are all considered contributing factors to the added pressures on those who make their living working the land.
In farm country, these concerns are nothing new. Ag groups nationwide have launched initiatives to try and curb the crisis, including the Illinois Farm Bureau whose Rural Health Committee is working to develop ways to prevent farmer suicides.
Illinois Farm Bureau Associate Field Support Director Jackie Jones said, "Farmers are definitely tough people, and I think it's harder for them to reach out and ask for help."
Jones reiterate: "We definitely just want farmers to know that they're not alone. We know times are tough, and we're here to help any way we can. So making sure they are aware of the resources out there, whether it's contacting the national suicide prevention hotline or talking to friends and family."