Ask any farmer/rancher with a little age on them what the toughest time for them and their operation was, they will immediately tell you the horror stories from the 1980s farm crisis. Record production led to a sharp decline in commodity prices. Coupled with interest rates as high as 21% and high oil prices, it was a perfect storm for a farm crisis.
Recently, there has been much talk about the next farm crisis. Living in a capitalistic society, booms and busts of the market are natural. However, we all tend to get short sighted when it comes to these periods. We think that both the prosperous and the lean times will go on forever. We must remember that we must not get too comfortable with our current situations.
In looking from this from a mental health perspective, I believe there are a few ways to alleviate the mental stress associated with changing economic times
Watch our debt load
I remember all the market forecasts, (or at least all the ones I paid attention to) said in 2014 that the record feeder calf prices we were seeing were going to last for at least 2 more years. Well someone forgot to tell October 2015 about those plans. I’ve been in the cattle business a very short time compared to some of my peers. However, October 2015 saw the sharpest decline in feeder calf prices that I had ever seen. Earlier in 2015, feeder calf prices were in the $250/cwt range. October 2015 saw the same calves drop all the way down to $180/cwt. For those of you keeping score at home, that is a 28% decrease in prices in a matter of months. As anyone involved in agriculture knows, banks like to lend out money in times of economic surplus. Well when these prices take such a drastic nose dive, our finances can take a crippling hit. My friend Mary Jo Irmen talks about this extensively in her book, Farming Without The Bank https://www.farmingwithoutthebank.com/book/
So an important lesson in these times of high prices, we mustn’t take on too much debt. History has told us that these high times are short lived. Anyone, farmer or no, knows that mental stress is directly proportional to economic stress. We must watch what we spend to give ourselves mental clarity.
Who are the Jones’
We’ve all heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Jones'” Well, I can be the first to tell you this is no different among the ag community. We all want a bigger tractor, faster UTV, prettier horses, etc. But we have to recognize what makes us happy. My friend Clay Conry has the “Working Cows” podcast. In his episode “Free Market Cowpitalism” (which by the way is my favorite name for a podcast EVER!!!) he points out that we must make the economic decisions in our cowherd based on our happiness. Do fat cows make you happy? Then spend a bunch of money to make them fat. But instead, do low input cows that leave money left over for family vacation make you happy? Then have low input cows.
We spend entirely too much time worrying about what others have and what we dont. In reality, comparing our lives to others is Apples to Oranges. Keri and I have come up with a plan for combatting this keeping up mentality. We budget our time and money with regard to our core values. For instance, we both love to travel. So we make sure to budget adequate money and time for taking trips for both our family and just the two of us. I believe that all farming/ranching operations should do something similar. They should write down their core values in regards to their businesses and make sure whatever inputs (money and time spent) are directly tied to these values. I believe this is a simple and effective way to manage our mental stress with regards to money
Are The Good Times Really Over For Good?
As previously stated, times of economic boom and bust are natural in a capitalist society. There are also relatively short in the overall lifetime of an operation. We must remember that not only in economic downturns, but in times of harsh weather and other events as well. For me, the most stressful time was the historic drought of 2012. Having to feed hay to our cows when it was triple digits outside was outside of anything I have ever experienced. I would drive into our prairie fields in Missouri and the scene of cows coming to us looked what I would imagine West Texas appears in the summer months. A cloud of dust hovered above the herd as they scampered toward our truckload of hay. Every night I would struggle to fall asleep, knowing the contraction of our herd was imminent.
But guess what, it rained!! It rained so much that we began to complain about how wet it was. (Typical) Even with the worst drought I had experienced in my time on the farm, 2 months later the drought had vanished. When times get lean, we must learn to dig our boots in and ride out whatever storm we are facing. We also must learn to appreciate how fortunate we are.
We are not alone
Agriculture is a community… Even go so far as to call it a family. Chances are that whatever hardship we may be enduring, there are a group of people around us that are enduring the same struggle. Grieving is always lighter when you have someone to share it with. Someone who is empathetic to your situation. So when this downturn comes, it is up to us as a community to endure it together.
This is one of the main reasons I began this blog. I’m seeing some of the toughest people I know struggle with mental anguish. They feel that they are weak because of their mental struggles. I have felt helpless for so long and now I want to combat this head on. I want to be a resource for folks who are struggling to be able to reach out to for someone to talk to. Someone who has both clinical and personal experience with mental health to empathize with them.
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