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Many Virginia farmers dealing with mental health struggles

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 6:29 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Farmers across the United States and here in the Valley are struggling with mental health issues, and the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is looking to raise awareness of the problem and provide help to those in need.

“Farming has always been a stressful career. It’s rewarding but very stressful because day in day out you don’t really get a break, so it’s always been a problem, and the pandemic has just sort of exacerbated what’s already been a problem,” said Jeremy Daubert, a dairy extension agent at the Virginia Farm Bureau’s Rockingham County extension office.

At the end of last year, 65 percent of farmers surveyed by the American Farm Bureau said the pandemic adversely affected their mental health.

“I work a lot with dairy farmers, and milk prices have really been up and down a lot, so it’s hard to sort of budget for your next year when you don’t know what your next month’s prices are gonna be, livestock producers have a hard time finding markets sometimes,” said Daubert.

Daubert, who was a dairy farmer himself for many years before becoming an extension agent, says the uncertainty of the pandemic has made things hard on farmers.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns in agriculture to start with and then with the pandemic prices kind of crashed, and then they went way up, and then there were subsidies, so there are just a lot of unknowns which is very stressful in farming,” he said.

In addition to the pandemic, modern technological advances have made farming a very isolating job which can take a toll.

“What used to take 10 people to do now you can do with one or two and so those interactions are even harder for them, they’re not seeing as many folks as they did before and with COVID that’s hit everybody hard but it’s hit farmers especially hard,” said Dana Fisher, Safety and Young Farmer Coordinator for the Virginia Farm Bureau.

High stress levels, combined with social isolation, can lead to depression for some farmers and create unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking and smoking, as well as physical dangers on the job.

“When you’re under stress, when things are harder, when you’re trying to reach more hours out of the day that’s when accidents happen in any case, if you’re driving, you’re running a piece of equipment whatever and so just take that time to make sure you’ve got a mental break to make sure you get a chance to kind of relax,” said Fisher.

The Virginia Farm Bureau encourages farmers not to be afraid to ask for help. They offer professional help to those who need it and hold support groups where farmers can come together to talk with one another about any issues they may going through.

“Everybody has some type of struggle, some of them are minor some of them are major but all farmers struggle at times so it’s just important that everybody knows and has somebody to talk to and that they’re not alone,” said Daubert.

The Bureau asks those who know farmers to check in with them from time to time, so they know they have someone to turn to if they’re in need.

“Many years ago we were a little more connected, more folks were in the agricultural field and now they’re more removed, so reach out, let them know what you’re thinking, let them know that you appreciate what they do, it’s a big step to let them know what’s out there that is positive,” said Dana Fisher.

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