Agricultural producers have to mitigate a variety of different stressors in their day-to-day operations, some in their control and some out of their control. Examples of these stressors include the weather, government regulations, price uncertainty, and labor shortages. These farm stressors have the potential to negatively impact not only the health of the agricultural business, but also the health of the producers themselves. Farm stress can also negatively affect the well-being of the general rural economy. These stressors have the potential to close agricultural operations that support rural communities. Stressors can also decrease agricultural operations’ productivity. For example, a lack of on-farm labor can decrease a business’s output.
The objective of this Choices theme package is to increase awareness surrounding farm stress, defined as the stress faced by agricultural producers related to their work. Those who work alongside agricultural producers (such as Extension professionals) can then begin to consider these stressors in their interactions with producers. Additionally, those who work in Extension should also be aware and up to date on any stressors that are specific to producers or area commodity groups in their region. With the articles in this theme package, we also want to provide exposure to these issues for those who are unaware about how prominent these issues are in agriculture. In addition to this theme package, there are available resources for agricultural and applied economists who are interested in learning more about farm stress. The USDA-NIFA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) has been established, whose goal is to support those working in agricultural with programs to mitigate farm stress (USDA NIFA, 2021). Farm Bureau has developed their ‘Farm State of Mind’ website, which includes mental health-related resources (Farm Bureau, 2021). Additionally, several University Extension programs now have materials on farm stress available on their websites.
The four articles in this Choices theme focus on farm stress, covering a variety of agricultural industries and associated stressors. Producers may experience negative health impacts as a result of physical and mental stresses. Three articles in this theme examine stressors specific to producers of three major U.S. agricultural commodities: row crops, cattle, and confined animals. A final article examines the link between producer health and farm stress, which—as the other articles show—is prevalent across agriculture, regardless of commodity or location.
Smith and Maples provide an overview of stressors encountered by row crop, including production, financial, and legal stresses.
Martinez, Dudensing, and Maples examine the particular stressors faced by cattle producers, such as ensuring that the livestock are healthy, adapting to the seasonal challenges of livestock production throughout the year, COVID-19-related issues, and government regulations. The role of Extension economists in providing resilience education and mental health programming for livestock producers is also given attention.
Thompson and Hagerman explain the stressors faced by confined animal producers and detail how modern confined animal production practices and policies have contributed to producer stress. The impact of catastrophic events, such as weather events or animal disease, on producer well-being is also described. Last, the article provides an overview of how confined animal producers can build business, financial, and mental resilience.
Robertson, Mills, Wallace, and Buys explore the connection between farm stress and negative mental and physical health issues for producers. The article also describes how farm stress is currently being addressed through organizations like FRSAN and how preventative services can help alleviate negative health outcomes for producers.
Farm Bureau. 2021, May 3. “Farm Bureau Launches Farm State of Mind Resource Directory to Support Mental Health Month.” Available online: https://www.fb.org/newsroom/farm-bureau-launches-farm-state-of-mind-resource-directory-to-support-menta
National Institute of Food and Agriculture. 2021, October 27. “NIFA Invests Nearly $25M in Farm and Ranch Assistance Network.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. Available online: https://nifa.usda.gov/press-release/nifa-invests-nearly-25m-farm-and-ranch-stress-assistance-network