Alleviating and Understanding Farm Stress

September 26, 2020
Meg Moynihan received support from SARE to support her ongoing efforts to train agriculture advisors to respond to the stress they encounter on farms and in rural communities. Photograph by Cory Ryan, courtesy of University of Minnesota School of Public Health

Farmer stress levels are on the rise. Fueled by low prices, debt, inconsistent weather, isolation, marital stress, farm transfer issues, production challenges, the complexities of COVID-19, and other factors, some farmers are in trouble.

As a producer who has experienced stress herself, Meg Moynihan is poised to help agriculture advisors better respond to the stress they encounter on farms and in rural communities through her advisory role with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Moynihan and a team of experts have been designing, developing, and delivering trainings on farmer stress and mental health called “Down on the Farm” since 2017. These Down on the Farm workshops help people who work with farmers recognize and respond when they suspect that a farmer or farm family member needs help.

With support from SARE, they are building on that work. The farm stress team is working to reach federal agency staff, state regulatory staff, Extension representatives, lenders, faith and social organizations, and business people in Minnesota with skill-building workshops that focus on suicide and suicide prevention, community-level resource engagement, de-escalation, rural adolescent stress, and conflict resolution. With partners at the Minnesota Department of Health, SAVE, and LivingWorks, they are adapting an evidence and skills-based suicide prevention training called safeTALK to address the unique characteristics of agricultural communities.

“This project addresses the sustainability of farmers themselves,” said Moynihan. “It’s developing curriculum to teach agriculture advisors how to respond when they see farmers in trouble.”

Dig Deeper

Now available as an online toolkitDown on the Farm: Supporting Farmers in Stressful Times is a 3-hour workshop that teaches people who live and work in agricultural communities how to recognize and respond when they suspect a farmer or farm family member might need help. It can be offered in-person or online.

The kit consists of 1) a PowerPoint slide set and 2) a Facilitator’s Guide (PDF) – you just add 3-4 people to make a delivery team. It’s free, and they encourage users to adapt and modify it for their own local area and audiences.

In association with Meg Moynihan’s work on farm stress, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network have joined forces to create a new radio and podcast series called TransFARMation. The series is designed to increase awareness and reduce inhibitions about acknowledging farm stress, as well as highlight the resources available. Local farmers, ranchers, and agricultural stakeholders are featured, sharing personal stories and offering a message of hope.

Moynihan described several components of her farm stress-related work in testimony to Minnesota House and Senate Agriculture committees in February 2020 (Moynihan's testimony starts at 01:50).

Listen to Moynihan talk about her project in this video.

View Related SARE Grant:

Topics: Quality of Life, Sustainable Communities
Related Locations: Minnesota, North Central