Mental health a concern as Sask. farmers feel stress of slow harvest
SASKATOON -- As the middle of October approaches, Saskatchewan farmer Grant Michelson has less than 15 per cent of his annual harvest completed.
“I think 2019, nobody has ever seen a year like this.”
Michelson is also an agronomist who works with 17 farmers in the Watrous area to help them understand the science and risk behind soil management and crop production.
During his time in the field, he tries to begin a rapport with farmers to get them to open up on stress and mental health.
“For me all summer I've been trying to understand how to talk to farmers and I think that's one thing,” said Michelson. “It's not about going to the farm and trying to talk about crops. It's also just talking, how you doing?”
Michelson said the unpredictability of the environment and the decline in resources needed for livestock has created a lot of stress for farmers in 2019.
With the provincial farm stress line in place 24/7/365, John McFadyen, executive director of Mobile Crisis Services, said the service was implemented to help farmers deal with not only farming issues but to also connect with someone who could assist in domestic mental health problems.
“The top two concerns as far as their operation is financial issues and succession out of farming,” said McFadyen. “With family issues it’s issues with stress, anxiety and issues with addictions. A worker walked down into my office yesterday morning and said 'boy there's been a lot of calls to the farm stress line lately.’”
As of this week in Saskatchewan, farmers collectively have 55 per cent of their crop now in the bin. Leon Ferguson, vice-president of Bridges Health, agrees with McFadyen and said the farmers are starting to open up about mental health issues.
“We are seeing a lot of requests coming in and that's fantastic,” said Ferguson. “Before then I think people we're sitting in silos and feeling like they couldn't talk and they couldn't seek help or they didn't know what to do. Now people are hungry for some education.”
Adelle Stewart, executive director of the Do More Ag foundation, said her organization came together after a concerned individual from the farm community opened a discussion on social media.
“She actually sent out a tweet that went viral and it said 'ag we have to do more,'” said Stewart. “Three things that we always ask people are to talk more, listen more and ask more. We have visions to decrease the stigma and increase mental health literacy as well as the unique factors of the agricultural lifestyle.”
Michelson recognized the fine line between what you can and can’t control as a farmer.
“I think some of the stress factors that we can control like insects, weeds, diseases, crop emergence, but there's a lot of things that we can't control like environment and politics,” said Michelson.
In terms of alleviating financial and environmental stress, Michelson said farm businesses need to evolve from previous years of operation.
“If we collaborate a farm business manager, a grain marketing manager and an agronomist on to a farm and have those discussions to help look at ways of managing risks for farms, we'd overcome some of the farm stresses that are coming from the environment today,” said Michelson.
Michelson said farm stress is real and has compounded throughout the 2019 growing season ever since trade tensions began over the price of canola between Canada and China in March. He hopes there can be a greater open discussion between farmers and mental health throughout the province.