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Big Country farmers describe hardships in light of farmer suicide study

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB) - Farmers face many challenges. The past year saw significant problems for the Big Country, when rains came at all the wrong times, ruining many late cotton crops. Still, those challenges can result in more than just a year of bad luck. While it isn't something you'll hear from a lot of farmers, others have taken note of a very real problem: the problem of farmer suicide. 

"Of all the careers, of all the sectors of our economy, being a farmer has the highest risk of suicide in the nation", explained U.S. Representative Jodey Arrington. It doesn't stop at suicide, either. Studies also show farmers are more likely to report substance abuse. This all stems from their highly stressful job.

One of the key contributors to that stress is the sheer cost of the farming business. "Farmers go into debt almost every year with operating loans", said agricultural lawyer Stephanie Bradley Fryer. "So they depend on a crop to be produced that year. They face a lot of obstacles from the time they put the seed in the ground to the time it's harvested."

Of course, all business comes with an element of risk. But in farming, the risk can come from factors well beyond a farmer's control. One such factor is the manipulation of the cotton market. "There was nothing a farmer could do about it", said Arrington. "It didn't matter how good of an operator, it didn't matter how good his technology, or how hard he worked. It didn't matter."

Another force that could move a year's crop to ruin: weather. 2018 was a prime example of how poor weather can destroy an entire year of good farming practices. Bad weather, bad markets, and other issues all add up to create a worrying trend.

"We had 40% plus forclosures and bankruptcies in family farms throughout the country. We're coming off some of the worst times in agriculture that we've seen in modern history", said Arrington.

Fryer concurrs: "All the pieces are there for someone to feel like they don't have any options, and they feel like they have dug themselves in a hole they can't get out of." That leads to an all too common outcome.

Arrington said, "The data bears out. It's so stressful, they take their own lives because they can't deal with the fact that they've lost everything, on account of something they can't control."

Although things may seem hopeless, help is always available. As someone who understands the legal and financial side of farming, Fryer can speak with authority when she says, "Reach out to your CPA, your accountants, lawyers, people who can help you look at some different options. You might just be surprised the options that a person has to work through those difficult times."

Still, financial help is only half the problm. The other half is mental wellness. The new Farm Bill works to address that half of the equation. Arrington said, "We even put some money in for this issue of intervention and counselling and supporting folks who are producers."

The most important takeaway is the reminder that suicide does not truly solve problems. "If a person chooses that option, there's still someone that's going to have to deal with the issues", said Fryer. "The issues don't go away. It's a difficult position you leave your loved ones in."


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