Say the word “farmer” and many people picture a guy in a ball cap driving a big tractor across a lush green field on a sunny day. While these sorts of days happen, they are the exception more than the rule of how farmers usually spend their days.
Weather, finances and social factors each bring their own type of stress to farmers.
Given their stress level, and the many risks that they encounter each day, lack of access to healthcare is a very real concern. This is one of the reasons that rural health is so important. With Critical Access Hospitals, such as Rush Memorial, farmers are at least relieved of the stress that comes from living far from doctors and hospitals.
Another source of stress for many farmers is the lack of understanding of their occupation among non-farmers. One way to help relieve this stress is for “the rest of us” to appreciate, to the extent we can, the risks our farmers encounter in their day-to-day work.
Farming is not only one of the most difficult occupations, it is also one of the most dangerous. In 2016 417 work-related deaths occurred among farmers and agricultural workers. An average of 100 agricultural workers a day lose work time due to work-related injuries. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, here are just some of the risks that farmers encounter while putting food on America’s tables:
- “Exposure to farm chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, as well as toxic gases which may be produced from common farm practices like manure decomposition and silo crop storage
- Exposure to high levels of dust, which can contain mold, bacteria, and animal droppings, among other things
- Falls from ladders, farm equipment, grain bins, or other heights
- Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can result in skin cancer
- Joint and ligament injuries, which can result in arthritic conditions affecting mobility
- Exposure to loud noises and sounds from machinery and equipment can result in hearing loss
- Stress from environmental factors, such as droughts, floods, wildfires, pests, and diseases affecting crops and livestock, as well as from working long hours, financial concerns, and feelings of isolation and frustration
- Risk of suffocation in a grain bin if a person is engulfed by the grain
- Risk of heatstroke, frostbite, or hypothermia from working outside in extreme weather conditions
- Risk of injury from operating farm equipment and motorized vehicles
- Risk of injury from working with livestock
- Risk of electrocution to persons operating large equipment that can contact overhead power lines”
One risk not included in this list is the risk of suicide. According to the CDC, suicide rates for farmers are one and a half times the national average.
While taking time off helps many people manage stress, farmers have far fewer opportunities for taking a break from work. As in pandemic healthcare, work on a farm doesn’t go by a clock and isn’t limited to the business week. Work on the farm gets done when it needs to be done, leaving the farmer largely unable to plan for any kind of a set schedule or to take time off for self-care.
Farming has many rewards, but they come at a high personal cost to many farmers, largely as the result of things over which the individual farmer has little control. This very lack of control is often the biggest stressor of all.