Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Dr. Farmer Has A New Book On Farm Crisis

November 6, 2000

I began writing a newspaper column at the beginning of the mid-80s farm crisis. The timing of the column was fortuitous because that was when the trauma of the farm crisis became public. Farmers who had privately endured the pain of failing finances, dramatic loss of land values and unmanageable debt could then see that they were normal. They were able to shed some of their frightful guilt and self-blame.

My column helped tell the story of agriculture and offered helpful ideas on coping with stress. Many people from that farming era have written or told me about how helpful my words were then.

The catastrophes of the 1988 drought and spring rains and widespread flooding conditions in 1993 brought widespread pain and dislocation to farm families. I wrote a booklet, "The Rural Stress Survival Guide," which integrated previous writings on agriculture stress and coping during all those farm crisis years.

Now I have a new book, "Honey, I Shrunk the Farm." The title came from a farmer at the end of a retreat for economically distressed farm couples. He turned to his wife to explain what he had gotten out of the retreat and said, "Honey, I shrunk the farm."

I took the expression to mean the farm, farm stress and his attitude about farming had been shrunk down to manageable proportions. It was no longer intrusive and controlling in the way it dominated his mood and reactions. He would pay more attention to his wife and family, listen better, inject humor and playfulness back into their lives and moderate his workaholic and angry reactions to dealing with stress.

This book itself is a compilation of some of the rural columns I wrote since the publication of the "Rural Stress Survival Guide." The vast majority of topics on farm stress and coping in this book were written during and after the horrific Northern Plains winter of 1996-97 and the subsequent down years in agriculture since then.

Why now? What has happened in agriculture to create the need for this kind of book? The meat processing and grain handling companies continue to consolidate. Globalization brings new challenges and new competition. The Asian export markets have nose-dived at the same time. Advances in technology have accelerated the trend toward a larger and larger scale of farming to make a profit. This threatens the viability of small and mid-size family farms.

We have had a "Freedom to Farm" policy which is more market oriented and has allowed farmers more choice in the types of crops they could plant. But with fewer government controls and some good weather years the oversupply of grains has glutted the world market and driven prices to record lows. And the good weather wasn’t uniform. The east coast, southeast and southwest have had drought conditions while the northern plains have had too much water and disease problems.

The outlook for family farming at the mid-size level looks bleak because the fundamentals for success seem to have gone beyond the level of control at the farm gate. These are people wedded to the land and to their lifestyle. Change isn’t easy when what formerly worked is no longer working.

I didn’t think I would have another round of writing about farm stress in my lifetime. Here we are again, and unhappily, the ending to this crisis is not over. The bins are again bursting. Prices are at historical lows and the shake out of smaller and mid-size family farmers continues. The current downturn in the farm economy and the impact it has on family farmers rivals or surpasses the difficult farm crisis years of the mid-80s.

Getting help. My office is again filled with farmers and farm couples trying to make sense of their lives in dealing with the challenges they face. Marriage suffers. Despair and anger mount. Outreach workers, clergy, farm management financial consultants and mental health professionals are busy.

Many people are choosing to leave farming with whatever equity they can salvage. They are not waiting for foreclosure. My book has a section for those farmers who are in transition out of agriculture. The adjustments they have to make are beyond the scope of what most people go through when they change occupations or places of residence. This goes to the heart of agriculture and why it is a "way of life" instead of just a business. The debt issues and tax consequences would boggle the minds of most of us living on salaries. The new row is not easy to hoe.

I receive letters from my syndicated column readers telling me of their perspective and their stories of how the farm crisis was and is affecting them. I’ve included their letters in this book. I hope this book will comfort and give clarity to those who find themselves in the path of these bewildering events. In the next few months, I will be also publishing two other books in the Rural Survival Series - one on the challenges facing rural communities and another on management and relationships in family farming.

To order my latest book, you can call 888-568-6329 or order on-line at www.jmcompanies.com. To order the Rural Stress Survival Guide, call 1-800-456-0839 or e-mail at prestonconnection@msn.com.

I wish times were better for the fine people in agriculture and the need for this kind of book didn't exist. I hope that this book will be an aid and comfort to those who need it and enlightening and informative to those who care and are offering help. The farm again looms large and needs to be shrunk down to size.