Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

How Rural Readers See The Economy And Their Lives

July 6, 1998

A while back readers of this column took a survey about satisfaction with their lives. At the end of the survey many rural readers added their comments about how they felt about the rural economy. Here is what they said:

"Environmental issues also determine happiness with our community. Income dissatisfaction due to the amount of return for the number of hours worked. Too little pay! The price of cattle doesn't keep up with the cost hikes.

"In general, very satisfied. With the farm situation, not at all."

"Returned to this area four years ago - never realized the stress of farming when growing up here."

"I feel that as a minority group of Americans, the small farmer is so important to the world, yet we are not given the true support and recognition we need."

"Wheat scab disease and poor prices at the same time destroyed our equity from 1993 to 1997. I am happy with my marriage but it is so hard to make a living at farming. It is very stressful. Through 1992 we had everything paid for. 1993 and 1994 ate up all our equity. Since them we're still dealing with disease, poor yields and poor prices. Not a pretty picture."

"As long as the federal government cheap food policy receives top priority, producers of real wealth (farmer/ranchers, lumbermen, and fishermen) will continue to be squeezed. Families of producers are overwhelmed with the restrictive federal regulations, monopolistic practices of processor conglomerates, dependency on commodity exports to say nothing of the vagaries of weather, plant/animal diseases, insects and economics of hired help. All have a negative impact on the welfare of families/communities."

"Farming is a horrible struggle against the elements because it's always going to rain tomorrow and undone work will cost us thousands. It is not practical that the answer to problems is to take a day off for a picnic with the kids."

"Farm prices are terribly low and expenses extremely high. That makes for a very negative outlook on life."

"I am extremely frustrated with our perennial wheat scab problem and diminished income. Now we are losing 'normal' farmers."

"My wife teaches to make our living. I farm 1100 acres and can't make a living!"

"Most personal life negativism is a direct result of the economic status of American agriculture and the public's attitude."

"Myself and all my farm friends do not wish to get rich, just wish to we could break even and continue to live the farm life."

From a small business owner - "I am always amazed at how hard most farm families work. My husband and I work extremely hard to keep our business profitable . . . After 15 years of this, we are not sure where we would could go if we decided to discontinue our business. I guess we thought we'd be further along at this point in our lives. If it were a more profitable business, we'd never consider leaving."

"I am disappointed in farm prices compared to expenses."

"Farming and ranching aren't so good now. Prices for cattle etc. are too low. Expenses too high."

"We have five kids 22 to 11. Two in college and three in braces. Not good!"

"Community of 100 is too small. Not enough friends here. Many moved. No social opportunities makes me feel isolated, causes tension, stress and depressed feelings!"

"I guess I am a happy person. Good marriage but do not enjoy farm life anymore. My husband loves it."

One reader included a concise summary of the changes she saw in her rural community and farm economy and how it is affecting her family.

"I have worked long and hard for my family, farm and community and was a stay-at-home mom. Now with the farm barely making it and friends moving away or working full time, it seems my having a career would have been a wiser choice both economically and emotionally. It's like a cruel joke.

"I would have answered the survey questions much differently ten years ago. Those ten years have seen these changes: Our community has lost the high school, bowling alley and snack bar, legion and little league baseball, grocery and hardware store, many couples retiring to larger cities, many young people to out-of-state jobs and 'Women of Today' and other organizations.

"What remains is a bar, cafe, and car dealership with gas and service. There are no health services, but there is a bus service for the elderly. There are three churches. Two are in danger of closing because of low membership, clergy recruiting and money problems.

"Our family has lost: the joy of farming, farm profitability to disease and poor markets, retirement income to keep the farm afloat, marriage satisfaction from fewer social activities and outlets, grown children to far away jobs, good friends to out-migration and good mental health to stress.

"We also have one son who is beginning to get involved in the farming operation. I can foresee lots of problems should he marry and try to find a girl who would be happy living here or if he should have to commute and not live on the land. Also there is the question, can any of the next generation afford to farm or ranch no matter how good their management skills are? We are hanging onto our sanity by a thread out here on the plains of Dakota!!"