#FarmNeighborsCare: Taking care of farmers' mental health

SOUTHERN WISCONSIN (WMTV) -- "The farming community has always been - lace up your boot straps and go do it again," said Ben Huber, a Green County agronomist

The Wisconsin Farm Center (DATCAP) provides financial, wellness, and other support to farmers across the state. This is at no cost to farmers. Call the Wisconsin Farm Center: 1-800-942-2474. Office hours and toll free calls are available from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

It's a mantra that every farm family lives by, but what about when that way of thinking isn't enough?

As Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in family farm bankruptcies, it's important to remember, it's more than a job. It's a livelihood. Now, several organizations are working to break the silence and help farm families navigate the changing face of agriculture.

Because of the high stress that comes along with the job, farmers are at a greater risk of suicide. Factors like market prices, mother nature, and tariffs all take a toll on a farm families’ mental health. There has been some discrepancies with actual numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the CDC doesn't have an exact number, it reports that farming is among the top 10 occupations at-risk for higher levels of suicide. Many in the agricultural industry believe the actual number could be higher than many believe, because often times farm suicides are masked as farm-related accidents.

Wisconsin Farm Center

The Wisconsin Farm Center is part of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The goal is to keep the heritage and integrity of the state’s family farms.

“That's extremely important not only to a farm family, but to Wisconsin Agriculture,” said Tracy Brandel, an economic specialist working at the center.

A small team of people answer the phone a dozen or so times a day. Many times, those on the other end of the phone line are reaching a breaking point – physically, mentally, or financial. Maybe all of the above, leading to some difficult conversations. No matter the magnitude, the Wisconsin Farm Center is ready to listen and connect the farmer to the help he or she needs.

At no cost to the farmer, the center offers them three vouchers. Those vouchers will connect them to the health, wellness, or financial services they need in their own community. That means, if a farmer in Wausau reaches out for services, that farmer would be connected to someone in north-central Wisconsin. Each voucher is good for a one-hour help session. Brandel said, once those vouchers are redeemed, the farmer does have the option to request more as needed so they are able to get the help they need. Brandel made it very clear that these interactions are confidential and no one should worry about reaching out and asking for help or guidance.

In 2018, the Wisconsin Farm Center reported 2,300 call for help. As of July 2019, there has already been more than 1,400 phone calls.

“It's a little bit more this year because of what we're experiencing in the farm economy,” said Brandel. “We'll probably end up with about 200 cases.”

While the call volume from day to day can change, Brandel said she can usually look out her office window and know what kind of call volume to expect. If it's raining, the phone typically rings more often as opposed to good work day when farmers could be out making hay or putting up corn silage.

The Wisconsin Farm Center services is available to all farmers and small agribusiness owners in Wisconsin. Contact the center by calling 1-800-942-2474. Those seeking services can also stop by the office. It’s located on the fourth floor of the Wisconsin DATCP at 2811 Agriculture Dr., Madison.

Office hours and the toll-free calls are available from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays. Connect by email at: farmcenter@wisconsin.gov

“We're going to be here,” said Brandel. “We're going to be here on the other end of the phone to answer and to help as many Wisconsin producers that we can.”

This is a service that is unique to Wisconsin. Nebraska offers a program very similar to Wisconsin as does Minnesota. State statue written in 1986 states the Wisconsin Farm Center will be funded indefinitely, according to Brandel and the rest of the team at the center.

#FarmNeighborsCare

In July, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau launched a social media campaign in an effort to bridge those on the farm and those off the farm. Seeing the daily struggles farmers are facing and the fact that Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in family farm bankruptcies, the idea of #FarmNeighborsCare was born. The social media campaign encourages all consumers to interact and engage with those working in agricultural.

“For some, this conversation and check-in may be the dose of positivity needed to make it through a tough day,” stated on the website for WI Farm Bureau.

The agricultural organization made it easy for everyone to participate. When you see something good happening in your farming communities – farmers markets, harvest dinners, etc. – post about it on social media with #FarmNeighborsCare. The goal is to encourage these interactions since many people are three generations or more removed from the family farm, according the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“This is the beginning of something that could be really big for the farming community,” said Ben Huber, an agronomist in Green County.

Huber has become a voice that’s trying to invoke a cultural change from inside the farming community. It all started with a blog post, Keeping Our “Head” in the Game. That blog was picked up by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

Huber said he targeted it to both those on and off the farm, detailing the struggles farm families face.

“So that maybe they understood the scope and scale of what does a 30 cent slide in the corn market means to the average farmer here in Green County? That's significant,” said Huber. “It would be like you or I going to work today and not getting paycheck.”

Huber explained that many studies have found that some living in rural communities feel a since of isolation and are more likely to keep their struggles to themselves. As farmers face some of the hardest economic times in decades, Huber wants consumers to know that a simple “Thank You” will go a long way for the well-being of our farm neighbors.

“This isn’t a Wisconsin problem. This is an industry issue that we have with mental health and depression,” said Huber.
Follow WI Farm Bureau on Facebook - #FarmNeighborsCare

Quick Links

Wisconsin Farm Center

National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield

Mental Health Awareness – Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health

Wisconsin Farm Bureau - #FarmNeighborsCare

If you are having a mental health emergency:

Dane County 24-hour Crisis Line at 608-280-2600

Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE

Dane County Clerk of Courts (regarding the commitment process) at (608) 266-4311

Partnering Agencies with Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s #FarmNeighborsCare Campaign

AgrAbility of Wisconsin, Dairy Business Association, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, National Farm Medicine Center, Professional Dairy Producers, Rural Mutual Insurance Company, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association, Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Farm Center, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board and the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association.


Ben Huber is an agronomist in Green Co. After writing a blog post, "Keeping Our “Head” in the Game," it was picked up by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. He's one of many voices looking to invoke a cultural shift among America's toughest people. He's encouraging the to open and and talk about the tough times on the farm.