Farm Management Minute: How do we cope?

Lori Tonak
Instructor, South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management

Traveling through my territory these past few weeks, I am reminded of days gone by. This is not necessarily a good thing, as the days gone by that have been on my mind is the 1980’s. I was just starting my career as an agriculture education instructor when the farm crisis hit. I helped write resumes for jobs as farmers transitioned from full-time farming to full-time careers off the farm. It was a stressful time in their lives, they felt they had no valuable skills, and there were many sleepless nights. So, why was I remembering this time as I drove the roads in 2019? I see more and more equipment for sale along the roads. Adverse weather has impacted some of my territory for two years. More operations have had to sell down or liquidate. Every conversation at the sale barn, coffee shop, etc. is about how to survive in these tough times. Mentally, this takes a toll, so how do we cope with everything in these challenging times?

First, I want to address the mental health of these times. Agriculture producers are a tough breed and tend to persevere no matter what. Many times, the individual does not see any changes in themselves, but their loved ones do. Michigan State University Extension has developed a great checklist to see if you are showing signs of stress. This checklist can be found at If you or someone in your family thinks there is a problem, please look at this resource. Avera has also set up the Farmer Stress Hotline at 1-800-691-4366. Someone is not weak just because they ask for help, it shows you are an intelligent human being and want to take care of yourself and your family.

Second, the bank or other finance group may have suggested you obtain off-farm employment to help with family living or want you to downsize the operation and seek other employment. As I told individuals in the 80’s, an ag producer has a long list of skills even if you never attended a post-secondary institution. Some of you are fantastic welders and mechanics and can fix anything. I know individuals that have taught themselves GPS and mapping and how to set up their equipment to utilize every feature. When it comes to understanding parts and how to find them online, many of you are masters. There are a number of online auction companies that are looking for representatives in your area, and who knows auctions better than a farmer/rancher! The skill set can go on and on. Is it what you want to do? Probably not but may be a necessity until times get better.

Third, make sure you check in with your children, especially the ones still at home. They also show stress from everything going on around them. If family living has had to be cut extensively and it has impacted their activities, make sure you discuss with them why some of these cuts had to be made. Also, I see many posts about how important it is to show up at every activity your child is in. This can also take a financial toll on your family. I know of families that spend upward of $200 a week on fuel and the price of admission to go to their children’s events. At $800 a month, that is a sizable hit to family living. These activities are important, and I am not saying children should not have the opportunities, but I hope other families are understanding if little Johnny/Susie’s parents are not at every out of town activity. If you are worried about your children and how they are coping with what is going on “down on the farm”, here is a link to youth farm stress:

Last, there are one day workshops for mental health first aid that will be taking place around the state, sponsored by SDSU Extension. One training is being held in DeSmet on August 22, 2019, with a second training in Lake Andes on August 28, 2019. To get more information, go to the iGrow site for SDSU Extension and click on the Events link. This is one way for community members to learn how to address mental health issues in your area.

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones and remember, if any producer would like more information on how the South Dakota Center of Farm and Ranch Management can help your operation, contact me at or call me at 605-995-7131.