Tough times for farmers prompt effort to support them

Workshop to focus on mental health as low milk prices, rising costs take a toll
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

These are tough times for local farmers, especially dairy farmers, as milk prices have continued to be low. 

And that brings a lot of stress on farmers’ finances, their families and their mental state, leading many to consider getting out of farming altogether, says Stephanie Plaster, an agriculture educator with the Ozaukee County University of Wisconsin Extension office.

“It’s a really tough time,” Plaster said. “Maybe not as bad as it was in the ‘80s, but we’ve seen the average income go negative, basically draining their back-up funds and really putting pressure on farmers to do something before they lose all their farm’s built-up equity.”

To help, her office and those in Fond du Lac, Sheboygan and Washington counties are co-sponsoring a workshop for agribusiness professionals and others who regularly interact with farmers on how they can help them cope in these tough times.

“Supporting Farmers in Challenging Times: Helping Farmers Thrive Today for Tomorrow” will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at the Washington County Public Agency Center in West Bend. Another workshop will be held the next day, at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 17, at the Fond du Lac UW-Extension office.

The workshops are free and primarily intended for those in the agriculture industry who interact with farmers. But farmers and their families also are invited to attend.

The workshop is a follow-up to a similar event held in January that drew about 100 people, Plaster said. She expects attendance to be smaller this time around being that spring is a busier season for farmers.

Plaster said the workshop has two components. 

The first focuses on supporting farmers through communication, addressing their mental and physical well-being and crisis prevention.  

“They’ll receive certified training in QPR — question, persuade and refer — to improve communication skills and help them identify key behaviors and recognize suicide risks,” she said.

The second component focuses on self-care, tips for agriculture professionals to take care of themselves.

“We’ll also spend some time explaining a bit of what farmers are going through, experiencing the culture shock of thinking about getting out of agriculture altogether,” Plaster said.

The workshop fits with other efforts UW-Extension offers for farmers. Those include workforce readiness preparation for those farmers who may be looking at starting new careers.

“Farmers have very marketable skills,” Plaster said. 

A workplace readiness workshop for farmers will likely be held this fall, she said.

Her office also helps farmers with business planning, financial management, retirement and handing off their farms to the next generation

“It’s all part of a tool kit to help people discover what options are out there,” she said.

UW-Extension also offers a “Heart of the Farm” program, which is aimed at farm wives. Past workshops have looked at finance and production topics, Plaster said.

“This year we talked about taking care of you and dealing with stress,” she said.

To register for the “Supporting Farmers in Challenging Times” workshop, contact Plaster at 335-4477 or online at bit.ly/2GD7CFa by May 15.

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