“Down on the Farm” workshop talks supporting farmers in tough times

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) held a string of “Down on the Farm” workshops in southern Minnesota this week. After a stop in Austin, Minn., MDA hosted a two-part session at South Central College Thursday in North Mankato, where the panelists discussed how to best support farmers experiencing depression. 

“Some farmers are in a cycle where they don’t how to get out,” one loan officer says. “With commodity prices where they were five years ago, as opposed to where they are now, you could see this coming. … What we’re dealing with now is a two-fold stress.” 

Meg Moynihan, a dairy farmer and MDA state programs administrator, said she was inspired to hold these workshops after hearing a similar topic on BBC’s Farming Today podcast. The Mankato workshop was the fourth in a series of six planned events dealing with increasing stress on Minnesota farms. 

“We thought this was a good idea to help our farmers,” Moynihan says. “Some farmers are stuck in a cycle where they don’t know how to get out. We look for the clues (of depression), but we need to do something.”

MDA compiled a survey with professionals who work with farmers on regular basis, including county and state agency staff, farm organizations staff, bankers and crop consultants. More than 500 respondents participated in the survey; 80 percent reported seeing an increase in financial worries among farmers and 60 percent reported observing heightened farmer anxiety. 

“Anger doesn’t exist by itself,” Moynihan says. “There’s always something underlying; it’s a cocktail of emotions that can cause depression.” 

The suicide rate among Americans is 26 people per 100,000; in agriculture, the ratio soars to 84 people per 100,000. Randy Willis of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, explored the signs and systems of depression; and how to best express empathy and employ crisis intervention techniques when talking with people experiencing depression. 

“You want to demonstrate that you understand, that their concerns are valid,” says Willis, a former Stevens County sheriff. “This is about listening, not solving the problem. We want to be active listeners and see things from the other person’s perspective and show we understand where they’re coming from.” 

More than 100 people attended the “Down on the Farm Workshop,” some of whom spoke of their own experiences with depression. 

“We’re all in this together,” Moynihan says.

For more information on future MDA “Down on the Farm” workshops, click here.