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Amanda Radke

Don't suffer in silence — pick up the phone

It's been a tough year for farmers and ranchers for a multitude of reasons.

First, producers are contending with ongoing trade wars, market uncertainties and debt loads rising to increasingly high levels.

Second, the average age of the American producer today is 58 years old and climbing. These folks are nearing retirement age and dealing with the challenges of transitioning the family farm, putting together a nest egg and navigating through the ups and downs of operating with multiple generations in one operation.

Third, external pressures such as threats from activists, retailer demands and consumer misconceptions are making it more difficult and more costly to produce food.

Fourth, Mother Nature has been unkind in 2018 and 2019. Blizzards, chilling temperatures, floods, wildfires, hurricanes — from coast to coast, producers have been facing cruel and unimaginable destruction from the most extreme weather conditions.

And the list of challenges could go on — rising input costs, escalating capital risks, volatile markets, difficulty to enter the business, competing products, animal disease, long days, no vacations, financial stresses, marital challenges...do I need to continue? It's no wonder many of our nation's producers are feeling hopeless.

Yes, it's tough out there. And yet, the American agricultural industry was built on resilience, determination, grit, independence and tradition.

But what happens whose values just aren't enough to save the family farm? What happens to the dairy farmer who says his final goodbye to his beloved cows before shuttering the family-owned business? Where should they turn for income when there are no alternative jobs in rural America? What is the next chapter when the farming enterprise is long gone?

As producers, it's not just our livelihoods that are dependent on the land and our livestock, it's our values, our identity, our tradition, our sense of worth, our feeling of purpose, our bond with our family, our ties with our neighbors, our legacy and our passion.

What do we do when the farm has failed? Where do we turn?

These are the emotions many producers are struggling with today as they face the harsh realities that their dreams of production agriculture are over.

I hate, absolutely hate, having to write about these broken dreams and these lost opportunities. Yet, I must because it's a growing problem in rural America.

Today, the suicide rate for farmers and ranchers is more than double U.S. veterans, and more than any other group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is due to many of the factors listed above, as well as "social isolation, financial losses, barriers and unwillingness to seek mental health services and greater access to lethal means."

So what's the point of this post? If you're reading this and you're struggling right now, please get the help you need to feel better and overcome these dark and overwhelming feelings. You don't have to suffer alone. You're not a failure for reaching out for help. Your family loves and adores you and wants you to be around to enjoy life and its precious moments.

If it's not you going through the tough time, I implore you to check on your neighbors. How are they doing — really? Maybe they would never say it or give a sign of distress, but don't let them remain in isolation. Don't let them suffer alone. Don't wait until it's too late.

Farmer and rancher suicide is a prevalent issue in the United States today — one that we cannot ignore.

If you or someone you love needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Avera Farmers Stress Hotline at 800-691-4336. Additional assistance can be found through the experts at FarmAid — call 800-FARM-AID.