Maintaining Farmer Health

By Linda Geist, MU Extension

Farmers know that well-maintained equipment is key to success.

Yet, they often do not listen to the “check engine” warning signs of stress, says Sean Brotherson, family science specialist for North Dakota State University. Brotherson was the keynote speaker at the recent University of Missouri Crop Management Conference.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health is also partnering with Missouri’s agricultural groups and organizations across Missouri to provide stress-management trainings, information on available resources- including support specific to areas hit especially hard by flooding and other disasters this year. To learn more about those resources, and find help near you, call (855) 823-4817.

“Ag has its own rhythms. It has its own culture,” Brotherson said. “When those rhythms go awry, stress can result.

“Health is the most important asset to any operation. If it is the most important asset, it also needs to be the most important priority,” he said.

Many sources of stress, such as weather and prices, are beyond the control
of farmers. “You are at the mercy of things,” Brotherson said.

Research from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks farming as one of the top 10 stressful occupations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the suicide rate for farmers is 1.5 times the national average.

MU Extension farm health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch said that in 2019 farmers faced flood, rains, late planting and uncertainty about commodity prices. Issues beyond a farmer’s control can weigh heavily and lead to depression, anxiety and suicide even in a typical farm season, Funkenbusch said. Debt, illness and injury also add to pressures.

“Farmers, because of their strong and independent nature, often are reluctant to talk about these issues,” she said. “Fortunately, resources are available. If you need help or know of someone who needs help, reach out.”

Funkenbusch leads the MissouriAgrAbility Project, an MU Extension program that works with partner organizations to provide practical education and direct assistance that promotes rural independence.

Funkenbusch offers these suggestions for farmers, ranchers and their families:

• Know the warning signs of stress. Physical signs include headaches, aches of the back and neck muscles, fatigue, labored breathing, weight gain, rising blood pressure, sweating, stomach issues, and sweating. Emotional signs include anger, restlessness, irritability, inability to sleep and relax, increased alcohol or drug use, and withdrawal from other people.
• Slow down.
• Get a physical checkup.
• Seek local resources, including clergy and medical professionals. Talk with other farm families and neighbors.
• Exercise daily. Take regular breaks throughout the day.

Additional resources:

Missouri AgrAbility Project, AgrAbility.

MU Extension Show-Me Strong Farm Families, on Facebook at ShowMeStrongFarmFamilies.

MU Extension Mental Health First Aid classes help people learn to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders in communities. Visit

Farm and Ranch Stress, North Dakota State University,

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

Find the rest of the issue here.