Mr. Rory Lewandowski, Extension Agriculture Educator, Wayne County, The Ohio State University Extension
There is no doubt that the production agriculture sector is going through a tough financial period. In particular, low crop prices and low milk prices are severely impacting row crop and dairy producers. Financial stress in the farm business often equates to stress within the farm family and can extend to farm employees. Harmful stress needs to be recognized and managed for personal health, family health, and health of the farm business.
Some stress is a normal part of life. Stress can motivate us to get things done or to make adjustments in our life that balance the stress or maybe remove the stress. However when stress events begin to add up or stressful events are added that don’t allow us to adjust or that are beyond our resources to adjust, then stress begins to be harmful. Symptoms of harmful stress, as well as mechanisms and the ability to cope with stress, will vary depending upon the individual. It is important to recognize some common symptoms of stress, and if these symptoms continue for prolonged periods of time to devise a plan to manage stress. Some common symptoms of stress include: feeling tired all the time, inability to relax, disrupted sleep pattern, irritability, anger, problems getting along with people, anxiousness, feelings of being overwhelmed, emotional outbursts, trouble concentrating, headaches, frequent illness, increased alcohol or tobacco use, and withdrawal.
Developing and maintaining avenues of communication can help farm families cope with stress during tough financial times. Communication is vital to help relieve the burdens of financial stress and to help generate ideas for problem solving, how to cut production costs, and/or how to increase efficiency or productivity. Regular communication during stressful financial times can help to reduce a negative environment and to prevent finger pointing and blaming. It is natural to look for a source to blame, but in the current farm economy, low prices are not the fault of any farm manager, family member, or farm employee. In addition, it is known that often just being able to talk about financial problems or feelings of frustration, helplessness, and anxiety can be helpful to mental and emotional health.
In a family farm situation, it may take an extra effort to maintain communication during stressful financial times. Try to put some “structures” in place that will help facilitate regular communication. An example of this is regularly scheduled family or farm business meetings. Meetings should have planned agenda items and a set starting and ending time. Some ground rules should be in place that provide opportunity for everyone to speak and that prevent any kind of personal attacks or blaming. The focus should be on the farm business. One of the topics on the agenda might be an update of the current farm financial situation. This update allows all family members and farm employees to understand the current farm situation, can squash any rumors that may have started, and can help family members and farm employees understand why repairs instead of new purchases are being made, why withdrawals for family living are being maintained or decreased, and why employee pay raises may be delayed or decreased. Sharing financial information within this type of business meeting structure can empower family members, employees to feel valued as a team member, and new ideas about how to meet financial challenges may be generated.
Communication is vital during times of financial stress, and in addition to communicating with family members and farm employees, the farm owner or manager should have a support network that understands the farm’s financial situation. Someone who can look at the farm situation from a non-personal perspective and that is not as emotionally invested in the farm operation can provide some clearer thinking and/or information that can be helpful in making decisions. People in this support network also may provide a sympathetic ear that allows some of the financial stress burden to be shared. These are people that want to see your farm succeed and be passed on to the next generation. This support network can include your lender, equipment dealer, seed/fertilizer dealer, financial advisor, nutritionist, veterinarian, Extension educator, tax preparer, or other trusted advisors.
For more information about communication during stressful financial times, go to the Dairy Issue Briefs section of the OSU Extension dairy web site at: https://dairy.osu.edu/DIBS/dibs.html.