Farm Management Minute: Stress and agriculture

Lori Tonak Instructor, South Dakota Center for Farm
Ranch Management

Two weeks ago, I attended the National Farm/Ranch Business Management Education Association national conference in Harrisburg, P.A. One of the most heavily attended session was the presentation was about mental health in agriculture. Articles have been published in many papers, magazines, and online dealing with this topic and the concerns surrounding it. Legislation was introduced in Congress on this topic. State Extensions are working together to help train mental health counselors in special concerns for farmers/ranchers compared to the general population. So, how do we deal with this stress? How do we keep it from impacting relationships with family and friends in a negative way? Is it really stress or just another day?

Some simple things we can do to relieve everyday stress is to add humor to your life. Try to visit with that friend that always makes you laugh. Having a strong network of friends and family, some of which you can vent to about life, is very helpful, but don’t let it become a pity party. Power naps on those busy days — just 15 minutes after lunch can give a person a new lease on life. In this day and age, snack foods are an easy thing to grab on the run, but try to eat at least two balanced meals during the day. These simple things may not be enough.

As people involved in agriculture, we tend to be independent creatures and seldom want to ask for help. That is my nature to the core, but in college I took a class on stress and depression, and one day we did a survey on the signs of stress. I had about 50 out of the 60 signs of stress and depression. Headaches, rapid heartbeat, clenched teeth, yelling more than normal, depression, frequent angry blow-ups, low self-esteem, increase in smoking or drinking, hard to relax or sleep, cannot get out of bed in the morning after a good night’s sleep are just a few symptoms taken from a lengthy list. What can be done if these are things you are seeing every day in your own life?

First and foremost, spend time with your family; take a weekend and just spend time somewhere relaxing. Learn to say no to the extra things during the busy time. Try to make a plan for stressful seasons, such as planting and harvesting, for who will do the everyday chores. Sometimes, harder decisions will have to be made. This may involve downsizing the farm, turning more responsibilities over to the next generation, or some other similar decision. Do not rule out seeking professional help. Admitting that professional help is the best course of action is one of the hardest decision for independent minded people.

If any producer would like more information on using recordkeeping to evaluate efficiency and profitability, which can help with stress reduction, the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management can help. To contact the SDCFRM office or any of our instructors, call 1-800-684-1969 or email us at