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Published September 10, 2012, 11:21 AM

Season of stress

Stress is inevitable in farming, especially during harvest. This harvest season is bringing both more and less stress than usual.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Stress is inevitable in farming, especially during harvest. This harvest season is bringing both more and less stress than usual.

On one hand, most area farmers have a break between harvesting small grains and row crops, a welcome change from recent years.

“It’s been an orderly harvest so far,” says Brad Thykeson, a Portland, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

At the same time, some agricultural producers are struggling with drought and sky-high commodity prices.

Whether this harvest is stressful or not “depends on the kind of farmer you are and where you’re at (geographically),” says Ted Matthews, Morris, Minn.-based director of rural mental health for Minnesota’s Farm Business Management Program.

For instance, producers who feed corn to livestock are stressed by high prices for the crop, Matthews says.

Stress levels also vary greatly depending on how individual producers are affected by drought. Some Minnesota farmers will harvest excellent crops, with other producers harvesting very poor ones, Matthews says.

Still, this harvest season, at least so far, is preferable to some recent ones in which wet conditions merged the small grains and row harvests into one long blur. On the many days crops or fields were too wet for combining, “We sat and wished we could be out there,” Thykeson says.

This year has been different. “It began with the spring. We were able to plant in an orderly fashion and that’s continuing into harvest.”

Stress levels could rise, Thykeson and other farmers say.

Area producers need fall rains to help recharge soil moisture, but harvest would be delayed and complicated if rain comes at the wrong time.

‘Don’t rush’ during harvest

For now, though, the upcoming row crop harvest promises to be the most orderly and least stressful in several years.

Even so, some farmers will be tempted to rush through harvest, Matthews says.

Most producers are hardworking and competitive, so they’re eager to finish quickly, he says.

“But don’t rush. Take it a little slower,” he says, emphasizing the need for safety.

Farm families can be stressed by many things besides harvest. A growing number of farm women have off-farm jobs, which often adds stress, he says.

Matthews, who’s worked with farmers and farm families since 1993, says “I’ve never dealt with so many pending divorces.”

He says many factors contribute, including rising land values, which increase a farming operation’s net worth and the size of the estate potentially to be divided.

It’s hard to tell if this growing season, on balance, is more or less stressful than recent ones.

For instance, the South Dakota Rural Helpline has seen little, if any, increase in the number of calls, says Marcie Moran, with Catholic Family Services in Sioux Falls, which operates the helpline.

Virtually all of South Dakota is in drought, and parts of southern South Dakota are “extremely dry,” the second worst of five drought categories, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership of federal and academic scientists.

But some rural areas in South Dakota also were stressed in recent years by heavy rains and widespread flooding, Moran says.

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