What do you say to a farmer with 80 per cent of the crop in the field and snow on the ground?
That’s not a rhetorical question, nor some elaborate setup for a punchline, though it may feel like a bad joke this fall. It’s the reality for a lot of producers this year.
The best I could personally muster at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend was to walk up to my brother, stick out my hand and say “good luck.” Fortunately his response was a wry chuckle, not a string of obscenities, so I think he’s maintaining a relatively positive outlook.
The stress, multiplied across thousands of farms in the region, is surely growing, however. And as winter draws nearer, maintaining that positive frame of mind just has to be getting harder.
There’s little relief in the forecast either. At press time, it was showing a long run that never gets sunny for more than a day or two, punctuated with cold rain or snow flurries.
Making it twice as stressful is the fact that most of these farms endured a hot and dry summer only to see the weather turn just as harvest was set to come in.
Also ramping up the misery quotient is the fact that despite those dry conditions the yields have been looking good, while prices haven’t fallen off a cliff. If they could just get it off, these farmers would be sitting pretty.
It’s this combination that makes running a farm as stressful as it is. One can do everything right but Mother Nature always bats last, as they say.
Most farmers will have seen some variation of this before, especially those who have been around for a few seasons. This is an industry that’s living and working in one of the most challenging grain-growing regions of the world. The short growing season always makes it a bit of a white-knuckle endeavour, especially in the northern grain-growing regions, and this year is surely a worst-case scenario for many farmers.
The various risk management programs will take some of the worst of the sting out of it, but nobody does much more than survive on crop insurance.
These are the seasons that can take a terrible toll on mental health, and it’s at times like these that a little self-care will go a long ways.
Years ago, after a personal setback, I was talking with a friend about my situation and the mental stress I’d been under. He was, at the time, an active RCMP member, and a fellow who’d seen it all and, to my knowledge, kept smiling.
I was surprised to hear him say that he’d gone to talk to a mental health professional about some of his emotions during a similar event in his life, and that I should too.
I turned to him and said, “Dan, you’re about the most unlikely advocate of mental health services I can think of. You just don’t seem the type.”
I’ll never forget his response, and I think it’s one many of us could do with remembering: “Well, if I broke my leg, I wouldn’t be sitting at home, trying to fix it myself.”
He was — and is — right of course. There’s no point in playing the tough guy or gal when you’re really and truly hurting. All you do by trying to gut your way through it is prolong the misery and prevent healing and recovery.
The truth of the matter is times have moved on and nobody should be expected to suffer in silence anymore. Having a good talk with a mental health professional can’t change the situation, but it can change one’s perspective. And anyone who would judge another for that is revealing more about himself or herself than the person wise enough to reach out.
It won’t change the facts of the matter, but it will encourage one to take a different look at them. Often that shift in viewpoint, combined with a sympathetic ear, is enough. It won’t change the weather forecast by any means, but it will make that load just a little bit lighter.
Finding those resources can be a challenge at times in rural Manitoba, but the province is fortunate to have some good options available to farmers.
If you’re under stress and need a little help getting over the hump, your first stop should be at the website of the Manitoba Farm, Rural and Northern Support services.
Here you can have an online chat with a qualified counsellor. If you’re the old-fashioned type or your internet connection isn’t up to such newfangled ways, they’ve also got a toll-free line, 1-888-367-3276, where you can have an honest-to-goodness talk with someone.
These folks might not be farmers, but they do have some insight into your way of life and they’re ready to help in any way they can.
There are also self-help options available like an app and website designed to measure stress and teach better stress management skills.
Mother Nature may or may not co-operate. You can’t change that. But you can take care of yourself.