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Published October 12, 2010, 09:29 AM

Harvest can take emotional toll

Few things in farming bring more satisfaction than harvest. But the season also can bring high levels of stress, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Though the weather has been virtually ideal recently, there are bound to be delays before the rest of the crop is harvested.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Few things in farming bring more satisfaction than harvest.

But the season also can bring high levels of stress, especially when the weather doesn’t cooperate. Though the weather has been virtually ideal recently, there are bound to be delays before the rest of the crop is harvested.

“If you ask a farmer to work, that’s great. But if you ask him to sit for three days because of rain (during harvest), it’s not great,” says Ted Matthews, Morris, Minn.-based director of rural mental health for Minnesota’s Farm Business Management Program.

Most farmers are pushers and doers, so weather-dictated idleness can be onerous, he says.

His advice: “When you can’t do something (involving harvest), find something else to do that’s productive. Don’t go around pacing.”

The productive outlook could involve work or something that’s fun, he says.

Farming, by its nature, brings cyclical stress, says Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University extension family science specialist in Fargo.

“That’s not a cause for alarm. It’s a cause for pro-active planning,” he says.

Without such planning, “People get into a high-stress mode of living. They run from task to task, and stress accumulates over time,” he says.

Failing to respond properly to stress will lead to physical and emotional problems, creating even more stress, he says.

Taking regular breaks, eating properly, getting sufficient sleep and taking time to relax are more important than ever during harvest, he says.

Farms continue to get bigger, which can both increase and reduce stress, Brotherson says.

Bigger farms often hire more help, sometimes reducing a farmer’s hands-on work and stress. But the additional help means more employees to manage, which can be stressful, Brotherson says.

Farm spouses with off-farm jobs can be particularly stressed during harvest, Matthews says.

Balancing the demands of off-farm jobs with those of a busy harvest can be extremely difficult, he says.

Older farmers, for their part, have less energy and stamina than they once did and need to adjust their workload accordingly, he says.

Ways to handle stress

University of Minnesota extension offers these tips on managing stress:

- Exercise, eat right and get enough sleep.

- Manage your time well and set limits.

- Make time to relax, think positively and include pleasant distractions in your day.

- Surround yourself with sources of support.

Eating patterns during harvest have changed greatly — and for the worse — through the years, Matthews says.

Once, harvest featured well-made meals prepared at home and taken to the field. The meals brought satisfaction, healthy nourishment and time to relax, he says.

Today, “You see a bunch of trucks lined up at McDonalds,” he says.

Matthews has one final suggestion for farmers and others trying to hold down stress during harvest.

“Be nice,” he says.

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