Farming: A Dangerous, Stressful Job

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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It's time to raise awareness of the hazards inherent in agricultural practices. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

It's interesting what you remember from your childhood. For me, it was one of my mom's uncles.

Uncle Leo was a retired north-central Iowa farmer. Like some of that particular generation, he had a corn-picking accident in his younger days, which took one of his arms. So he had a hook arm. This was way before my time. Mom remembers having the nuns of her Catholic grade school in south Omaha pray for her uncle and his recovery.

My grandma was one of nine children, so I had many great aunts and uncles. But Uncle Leo stands out in my memory because of his hook arm. Remember, I was just a little kid at the time, but I was just absolutely mortified every time I was around him because of his hook appendage.

Maybe I saw Peter Pan and Captain Hook battle it out one too many times as a small child, but the ironic part in all of this was that Uncle Leo was the nicest guy.

I'm sure to anyone reading this blog it is no surprise that farming is often listed as one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S. Despite advances in safety, each year more deaths occur in agriculture than in any other industry.

Agriculture accounts for 25.4 deaths per 100,000 workers, twice the number of deaths compared to mining, the next-most-dangerous industry, Sammy Sadaka, University of Arkansas (UA) Division of Agriculture Extension engineer, said in a recent press release.

The agricultural death rate in almost every survey published is higher from April through September. In crop production alone, there were 245 deaths reported in the U.S. in 2011.

While harder to estimate, farming would also be fairly high on a list of the most stressful jobs in the country as well.

On top of the threat of severe injury -- or even death -- from working with machinery and livestock, farmers have to deal with unpredictable conditions, said Brittney Schrick, UA Extension family life specialist: "High stress and anxiety from relying on weather, uncertain markets, and other unpredictable factors for one's livelihood can lead to feeling out of control and hopeless. Farmers and other agriculture workers are at high risk for substance use and abuse, depression, and other psychological issues because of the uncertain nature of their work."

Looking back at the 2016 farm growing season is a prime example. UA Division of Agriculture economist Scott Stiles said commodity prices fluctuated widely that year. Prices for rice, for example, are down 17% from a year previous.

The low rice prices are on top of a growing season in which many Arkansas rice growers saw poor yields and damaged quality because of extreme weather. Excessive rains in mid-August -- especially in the northeastern part of the state -- were coupled with extreme heat in July, which resulted in low yields and reduced grain quality.

"Arkansas farmers in some key rice areas have been hit from two sides with poor yields and a significant drop in prices," Stiles said.

Schrick recommends farmers feeling stress from agriculture's financial and health risks begin with basic stress management practices.

"Reducing or cutting out caffeine can improve sleep and mood as well as reduce headaches," she said.

A social network of family, friends, community organizations or a faith community can offer support and also outlets for talking about or venting concerns, or a different perspective on issues.

"It is import to eat well, get plenty of sleep, and take frequent breaks," Schrick said.

Farmers should seek help when feeling depressed, having suicidal thoughts or hallucinations or when feeling compelled to engage in abusive behavior or rages. Seek help also for substance abuse, difficultly thinking or expressing positive thoughts, or uncontrollable feelings of panic or anxiety.

To read the entire UA press release, visit:…

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