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Ag Spotlight: Farm Stress First Aid

Helping farmers (and ourselves cope) with chronic and acute stressful events


by Melissa Bravo - March 25, 2020

I am your host, Melissa Bravo and for those new to our broadcast, I am an agriculture specialist in Tioga County, Pennsylvania and the former noxious weed program specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. But most importantly, and the reason I am talking to you today, I am a century farm owner and my job depends on Ag, and that industry continues to be under extreme stress.

Today we are going to talk about ‘how to talk about stress’ with the farming community, and share with you resources I received recently at the two day National Farmers Union Farm Stress First Aid Training in Savannah, Georgia.

With me in the studio today is my guest, Mike Eby. Mike is one of three candidates who campaigned recently for president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), and is a board member of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union.

Here is an excerpt from Mike’s nomination letter: “I have spent years working in Washington DC on farm and dairy policy and feel very comfortable with the halls of congress and its members. I am passionate about the family farm and sustainable policies. I have no regrets raising our four children on our seven generation dairy farm. I do however want to spend the second half of my life’s career on “sustainable policies”. Milk is never going to be worth what it costs to make if farmers continue to produce beyond profitable demand. This is a cooperative process. We will all thrive if we build systems that win with collaboration. This is where my strength really shines. I want NFU to lead a “new era of farmers working together” for a better and healthier future for America and for the rest of the world to emulate.” – Mike Eby, Gordonville, PA, Lancaster County

I met Mike in the spring of 2018 while campaigning on the dairy crisis unfolding in Pennsylvania and other states. Unfortunately the economic strain on farm families of all sizes and demographics has not been alleviated; and is increasing with the added strain of the declared national emergency March 13th that will impact the economic recovery so needed in this sector. By now I am sure you have heard suicide rates in those whose economic viability is dependent on agriculture has soared. Here in our own communities we continue to lose not only members of our farming family, but others very dear to our hearts; and seasonal effects are compounding the stressors already in play.

In 2018, after back to back years of weather woes and low commodity prices, I began engaging with state agriculture officials and local leaders like Mike Eby to bring resources to farmers in hopes we can alleviate some of the stress and help farmers cope with those that are unresolved.

One of those resources is acknowledging we need to talk openly with farmers and each other about ongoing stressors and how we can help farmers and ourselves cope with chronic and acute stressful events.

The following information is from the NFU’s Farm Resiliency information on their website.

Even in the best of times, farming can be an incredibly high-stress occupation. Unpredictable weather, crop disease, volatile markets, heavy workloads, and social isolation are just a handful of the challenges that farmers may face. But between persistently low prices, climate change, and trade uncertainty, times have been particularly tough in farm country – and it’s taking a toll on farmers’ mental wellbeing. Recognizing these immense challenges, National Farmers Union is partnering with FarmCredit and American Farm Bureau Federation to help family members, friends, and neighbors address the farm stress crisis in their own communities.

Below is a video by FarmCredit on this issue, please watch and share with others in your network so you can hear firsthand what is being done in Washington and across the nation by Farmers Union, Farm Bureau and FarmCredit and Universities like Michigan State to address this ongoing need of our farming communities.


The following information is taken from the Michigan State University handout, How to Talk to Farmers under Stress.

You can provide support and help to farmers who are going through times of extreme stress, but it’s important to be prepared. By keeping an open eye for the warning signs of stress, practicing active listening and empathizing with farmers, you may be able to help them and their families avert a more serious situation.


If you believe that a farmer is going through a difficult time and showing signs of stress, you can help by taking the following actions


Just being there and listening are the first and most useful forms of help you can provide. There are several ways to listen, but in this case, it’s important that you practice active listening. Active listening requires using your ears and eyes while encouraging the person you are interacting with to reveal more about their thoughts and feelings than they may at first be willing to share. Make time to listen actively to the farmer. Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on at the farm. Show that you care.


Often, when we hear about someone else’s difficult situation, we feel compassion or pity for them, and we let them know by offering our sympathy. In most cases, however, sympathy is not helpful for the person receiving it. When we make a sincere effort to understand what the other person is going through, think about the feelings they are experiencing, [and] then offer constructive ideas for addressing the challenging situation or feelings they are experiencing, we are showing empathy.


  • Use active listening techniques.
  • Describe the facts and impacts on yourself and others without judgment or blame.
  • Explain the outcome needed.
  • Ask often for the other person’s views.
  • Ask for clarification whenever in doubt.
  • Restate: Is this what you said or meant?
  • Paraphrase what you are hearing.
  • Reframe the situation with a mutual purpose.
  • Brainstorm to come up with an accurate assessment of what is needed; develop an action plan.
  • Summarize what you mutually agree on.
  • After your meeting with a farmer under stress, make the commitment to stay in the dialogue. Always follow up soon after the meeting whether you said you would or not.


Places to contact at first signs of a crisis, your own or someone else:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Most states have a toll-free 24-hour helpline; in Pennsylvania, county specific hotline numbers are available at
  • Our local County Crisis Intervention Hotline is 1-877-724-7142
  • Ted Mathews is with Minnesota’s rural mental health program and a role model for other states to look to for guidance in reaching out to their rural farming communities

My efforts: If you are interested in helping me develop this outreach to our local farming community please contact me at *eight-one-four*five-seven-four*four-zero-six-seven*. I will be developing ‘Farm Stress First Aid Kit’ resources specific to the farmers in our community through the outreach arm of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and distributing them in the near future. Local sponsors and mentors are greatly needed and appreciated. Please reach out to me to find out how you can support this effort.

To support the National Farmers Union, take the free online training, or become a member, visit their website at National Farmer’s and look for the farm-stress-education link.

To all my farming friends and clients near and far: Please, when you are feeling overwhelmed, just pick up the phone and call me or Mike (*seven-one-seven*seven-nine-nine*zero-zero-five-seven*). If we can’t help you, we will find someone who can.


Idea/Concept: Melissa Bravo

Videography: Andrew Moore

Video Editing: Andrew Moore

Writing: Melissa Bravo


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by First Citizens Community Bank, Jim & Mary McIlvaine

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