American Farm Bureau Federation discusses rural mental health during virtual convention

The American Farm Bureau Federation held a panel discussion about rural mental health during its 2021 virtual convention.

The American Farm Bureau Federation convention, Jan. 10-13, was held online and included a panel on mental health.

The landscape of agriculture has been full of uncertainties and challenges. During the 2021 American Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual convention , a panel discussed the trying times seen in the industry, how they affect mental health, and how to respond to the challenge.

Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau (Contributed photo)

“This certainly is an important topic in rural America right now. Trade wars, bankruptcies, coronavirus, weather disasters, low commodity prices. All of these added burdens are weighing heavily on the shoulders of America’s farmers and ranchers, a burden that too many of our friends and neighbors carry alone,” said Chad Vorthmann, executive vice president of Colorado Farm Bureau.

For a large number of farmers and ranchers, the fear of losing the farm takes a toll on their mental state and causes much anxiety, the panelists said.. For many ranchers and farmers, the operation they have taken over has been in the family for many generations, and they worry about being the one farmer, the one generation, that loses the farm. That is a terrifying and lingering thought that many producers must face daily, panelists said.


Marshal Sewell, a field sales representative for Bayer Crop Science (Contributed photo)

Marshal Sewell, a field sales representative for Bayer Crop Science, recounted his own experience of his father dealing with that very thought.

“There’s a long history and a long legacy of farming in my family. As we were beginning to approach the harvest season during my senior year, we found out there was a disease outbreak in our strawberries. We ended up having a crop failure instead of a crop harvest. For my father, it felt like the best decision was to take his own life. In having so many years to reflect on it, I think there is a lot to do with the pressure of carrying on the multigenerational operation, knowing that that legacy was there and maybe not wanting to let his family down,” Sewell said.

Another obstacle is the negative stigma around needing or asking for help with one's mental health.

Randy Roecker, owner of Roecker's Rolling Acres LLC (Contributed photo)

“We have to feel like it’s OK to talk about this. That’s the problem I struggled with. My parents are in their early 80s, and this is a subject that you just don’t talk about. This is a subject that we have to talk about. We need to shut the stigma and that it is OK to talk about depression,” said Randy Roecker, owner of Roecker's Rolling Acres LLC.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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