Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Why Are Farmers Prone To Anger?

August 7, 1995

I've found that farmers and ranchers have more anger problems than most other occupations in society. Of course there are exceptions - I've met many easygoing, patient farmers who handle life in stride.

Why do farmers have anger problems? What is it about their work that brings out this reaction? Here are six reasons.

1. Lack of control. Farming is a highly competitive industry subject to supply and demand. The investment in land and machinery is high. A lot of money is tied up in assets with a relatively low rate of return on investment. Some years, crop and market conditions are excellent and farmers make good money. Every year is filled with hope and fear.

Political and economic forces affect profitability: government policies and regulations, farm programs, world trade and trade subsidies, environmental lobbies and pressures, input costs, multinational corporations and food processors, transportation and changing consumer demand.

Farmers feel they work harder than most people in society. They put in longer hours, take major risks with capital assets every year and are subject to uncontrollable factors such as weather, disease and market variation. Though farmers love their profession and lifestyle and cope with the stress of their industry, they feel society doesn't understand, appreciate or adequately reward them.

Like other emotions, anger has its origins in our basic thoughts and attitudes. Our thoughts and beliefs govern our emotional reactions. One main cause of anger is a sense of injustice.

There are many political villains to blame when things go wrong. With so many variables outside of his control, a farmer can easily become angry and develop a victim mentality.

2. Daily stress. Some farmers are perfectionists and have compulsive work habits. To some extent this is necessary - success is in details. In a complex, biologically-driven business, pressing needs and tasks come up and take priority.

Problems come up daily and at inopportune times. There are time crunches and overload problems at certain times of the year The year-round and daily work loads can be excessive and the stress great. Time pressured people are more prone to anger because each problem reverberates into other problems.


3. Work comes first. The farm drives some farmers and then they drive themselves and others. They expect everyone to function like a cog in a well-oiled machine. When family members don't perform to expectations farmers get angry with what they think is the cause of the problem. Mistakes are magnified and distorted to unreasonable levels.

Perfectionists with strong expectations about a right and a wrong way to do things are hard on others whose methods and results do not measure up to their standard. It is a small step from judging someone to being angry with them - especially when mistakes cut efficiency - or worse yet - costs something.

Farmers often assume their work and priorities are more important. That is another source of anger when things don't go their way. Relationships are secondary to this farming "battle." Not only is a lot at stake economically, but a man's identity and prestige in the community are fled to how his management is perceived. This commitment to work is not offset by a balanced commitment to leisure, family, social life, spiritual concerns and community participation.

4. Angry parents. Parents pass on the tradition of expressing anger to children. Parents who have temper problems teach that exploding with anger is normal and acceptable.

5. Isolation. Farmers aren't subject to the usual checks and balances in the workplace. Others in society learn to control their anger when they are around employers, co-workers, customers or the public. With family members, some farmers don't learn to moderate their reactions. They don't realize how out-of-bounds their anger is.

6. Anger habits. Contrary to what most people believe, expressing anger creates anger, both in oneself and in others. Only 15 percent of the population need to use anger more as a healthy way of expressing emotion. For the majority, getting angry frequently makes it easier to get angry the next time. People can indulge their anger like any other negative habit.

A farmer who blows up at everything finds it easy to blow up at the people he loves in his life. He doesn't make the connection between his tirades at work and the way he treats his family.

Because it is easy to get angry doesn't mean that it is justified or healthy. Life goes better for his family and himself when a farmer learns to control his temper.