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Missouri farmers face growing mental health challenges

Family farms are what makes Missouri – Missouri. Generations of farmers raising animals or growing crops on the same land as their grandfathers and great grandfathers before them. The Missouri Department of Agriculture reports almost 90% of Missouri’s farms are family-owned.

Emma Alexander is a seventh-generation farmer from Rogersville. Her farm is robust. They raise goats and pigs and cows. She said the life of a farmer is more complex than in years past – it’s now a global market.

“We can see so much more about our weather, the supply chain, our food system, social and political agendas, we know all that information almost instantaneously,” Alexander said. “And that can be overwhelming. It's not that farmers can't cope, it's that there's so much more that is in front of us.”

The current drought is also a stressor on the mental health of farmers. Some Missouri producers have been forced to sell their cattle this year because of the dying pastures and hay shortages.

As of July 23rd, 77 percent of the supply of hay and other roughage is short or very short in Missouri, according to a report from the USDA.

Macey Hurst is one of those farmers. She raises cattle with her mother and her sister outside Jefferson City. She said while they enjoy the work, it can be overwhelming.

"It's better to not face them alone, find somebody who is relatable, somebody who you talk to.”
Jason Medows

“We love providing for consumers, we love taking care of animals, we love reinvesting in the land and the natural resources that we are so blessed to be stewards of,” Hurst said. “And whenever we feel like we can't do that it's crushing on a mental, physical, financial, all of those levels.”

Rural health care deserts can also make it harder for farmers to connect with the resources they need. According to Missouri’s Office of Rural Health, 45 rural counties in the state are without a general acute care hospital - making it more difficult to find the time to travel to care.

Jason Medows is a pharmacist and a farmer in Crawford County, which only has one hospital within its borders, and he said he’s faced mental health issues of his own and understands the uncertainty and mental strain that can come with farming.

“Struggles are a part of our life, no matter what you do,” Medows said. “And it doesn't mean that you already blessed a person if you do struggle. Because we all face these things, and it's better to not face them alone, find somebody who is relatable, somebody who you talk to.”

Emma Alexander in Rogersville said building a support group of people in the agriculture industry can be a foundational step – or more simply, find some farming friends.

“Get that network, whatever that farmer is specializing in,” Alexander said. “If they're a crop farmer, they need to find the crop commodity group – whether that's corn or soybeans, or the cattlemen have a group or Farm Bureau is a great generalized ag organization where you're going to find some of those people.”

All three farmers hope to further destigmatize mental health in the farming community by keeping the conversation going, and letting people know they’re not alone.

In an effort to help those in the agriculture industry struggling with mental health and suicide, Missouri created the AgriStress Help hotline in 2022. It's specifically for farmers and rural communities looking for mental health support. You can call or text this helpline at 833.897.2474.

If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, call 988. But if you need help right away, call 911.

Katie Quinn works for Missouri Business Alert. She studied radio journalism and political science at the University of Missouri- Columbia, and previously worked at KBIA.
Missouri Business Alert keeps business decision makers and entrepreneurs informed about the stories important to them, from corporate boardrooms to the state Capitol.
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