The Intersection of Farm
Culture and Suicide Prevention
Kate Downes
Outreach Director
NY FarmNet
Cornell University
Agriculture in New York
Build awareness around stressful conditions affecting some farmers
Financial stressors
Social stressors
What we know about suicide in the United States
US farmer demographics
Average age of farmer is 57
2.7 million farmers are 45+
2.1 million producers are male; 1.2 million are female
3.2 million producers are white
2.04 million farms
900.2 million acres in farming
(USDA-NASS, 2017)
New York State
30 million acres
6.9 million acres are farmed (23%)
18.9 million acres are forest (63%)
New York City is 205,000 acres (.68%)
44 of the 62 counties are rural
7% of the state’s population lives in a rural area (1.36 million people)
NY farmer demographics
33,400 farms in operation in NYS (USDA-NASS, 2017)
Average age is 55
39,537 fall into the 45+ age group
57,865 farmers
35,985 male
21,880 female
57,155 are white
(USDA-NASS, 2017)
Agrarian imperative
“Impels farmers to hang onto their land at all costs. The agrarian
imperative instills farmers to work incredibly hard, to endure unusual
pain and hardship, and to take uncommon risks.”
Rosmann, 2010, p. 72
“The land means everything to farmers ͙ Losing the family farm is the
ultimate loss͙”
Rosmann, 2008, p. 39
Farming is a stressful, high risk profession
In 2016, 417 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related
injury (fatality rate: 21.4 deaths per 100,000 workers) (CDC, 2018a)
Opioids are an issue in rural areas: 3 of 4 farmers say it would be easy
to access opioids (Morning Consult, 2017)
Inadequate medical presence in most rural communities
Financial stress on the farm
Financial stress
Asset rich, cash poor
Face food insecurity - Many don’t qualify for SN P benefits
Farmers are price takers
Consumers control a lot of the markets
Government regulations - how to manage overtime, will they have enough workers, etc.
Machinery breakdowns - lost time and efficiency, expensive
Livestock illness
Crop yields
Weather events
Interest rates
Debt loads
Changing markets - global and domestic
Net farm income and net cash income
from 2001-18
Boom years from 2011-13
Declined by half since 2013
Slight uptick in 2017
We were entering a
plateau, but now͙.
Dairy hit especially hard
Net farm income in NY
33% decline in net farm
income since 2008
Median farm income by ag sector
Total household income and
portion of household income
from farming both vary by
Only dairy income falls below the
national average ($60,300)
Only dairy relies on over half its
income from farming
NY Farm Bureau COVID-19 Farm Impact Survey
43% of farms have lost sales during the pandemic.
More than a third of farms and agribusinesses (37%) are experiencing cash flow issues.
Almost half (47%) say they have reduced spending to local vendors and suppliers or will do so in
the future.
An overwhelming majority of farms (84%) have a plan in place to train and assist their employees
to mitigate the spread of the virus.
46% of respondents say they are concerned about their mental health or that of someone they
Social stress on the farm
Rural social determinants
Isolated - geographically and socially
Lack of appropriate health care
Long work hours
Don’t have appropriate health insurance
Rural per capita income lags the average per capita income in NYS
Increased rates of poverty in rural areas compared to urban centers
Lower educational levels
Higher rate of unemployment
Social stress
Farms are family run
Stereotypes - BIPoC, farmworkers vs farmers, farm wives vs farmers
Access to land
They’re farmers to the core - if they can’t farm, who are they?
Don’t want to be the generation who loses the farm - if they lose the farm,
what about their housing
Farming isn’t a 9-5, Monday through Friday job
Their own health isn’t typically a priority
Stress is a concept they associate with white collar jobs
Stigma - lack of language - shame
American Farm Bureau Federation and Morning
Consult Farm Stress Poll 2019
91% of rural residents agreed that mental health is important to them, and 75%
agreed it’s important to reduce the MH stigma in the ag community
A majority of rural adults agreed that cost (70%), embarrassment (65%), and
stigma (63%) would be an obstacle if they were seeking help or treatment for a
MH condition
30% of farmers/farmworkers would not be comfortable talking to a friend or
family member about solutions for a MH condition.
American Farm Bureau Federation and Morning
Consult Farm Stress Poll 2019
Stress, weather, the economy, isolation, and stigma negatively impact the MH of farmers
81% of rural adults said financial issues and fear of losing the farm impacted farmer MH
91% of farmers/farmworkers said financial issues, 87% fear losing the farm, and 88% said farm or business problems impact farmer MH
Nearly half of rural adults (48%) said they’re experiencing more MH challenges compared to a year ago
31% vs 21% of rural adults compared to farmers/farmworkers sought help for a MH condition
11% of rural adults have self-medicated as a result of stress
42% of farmers/farmworkers know someone who has self-medicated as a result of stress
Increased financial and social hardships
increase suicide risk
What we know about suicide in the US
Rate of suicide is highest among middle-aged white men
In 2018, men died by suicide 3.56x more often than women
White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2018
In 2018, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths
How NY FarmNet helps
Free and confidential
Program that works directly with farmers/farm families/agribusiness employees
Family consultants are LCSW, MSW
Financial consultants worked in ag lending, retired from farming, extension
Take a holistic approach - both a financial and family consultant work with client
Work with community organizations, local MH offices, social services, etc.
How NY FarmNet helps
Business planning, estate and retirement planning, transfer planning,
budgeting, financial analysis
Family communication and interpersonal relationships
Personal well-being, loss and grief
Family business meetings, time management
Outreach programs
Kate Downes
Outreach Director
NY FarmNet