Prompted by the many sources of stress currently impacting farmers and ranchers, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network have joined forces to create a new radio and podcast series called TransFARMation.
The series is designed to increase awareness and reduce inhibitions about acknowledging farm stress, as well as highlight the resources available. Local farmers, ranchers and agricultural stakeholders are featured, sharing personal stories and offering a message of hope.
“Many people are struggling and need to know they’re not alone,” said Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. “This is a powerful series. We hear from farmers, ranchers and others in agriculture talk about some of the strategies and solutions that helped them when times got tough.”
If you or someone you know is wrestling with a challenge that’s more powerful than yourself, a list of resources is available on this page.
Episode Description: Mark Koehn is nearing the end of his second career as an agricultural appraiser for Stearns County in central Minnesota. Koehn started farming right out of high school in 1973. Low prices, bad weather and medical bills combined to be a big challenge. "Like most guys when things get tough, our first instinct is to work harder so instead of 12-to-14 hour days, I was working 18-plus hours a day." Koehn said the family was struggling financially, emotionally and physically. As a result, the fourth-generation farmer reluctantly sat down with his 96-year old grandfather and explained the situation. Grandpa understood. "He said, Mark, if your horse is dead, get off it; it is not going to get you to town." In the mid-90s, Koehn left the farm to work as an ag appraiser. "There can be actual rewarding second careers. Some may be in the ag community and some may be outside of it." Koehn is now seeing farmers under stress and encourages them to keep their lines of communication open with family and friends. Hear more from Koehn in this episode of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: Farmers and ranchers are enduring a tough time in agriculture. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen can see signs of farm stress every day in certain sectors. "Farmers are in the fifth year of a downturn economy and it's eating into their equity. There are a lot of farmers struggling financially," says Petersen. That is taking a toll on farm country. Petersen is fielding calls from farmers and ranchers looking for answers. "One of the first things I do is ask if they've talked to a farm advocate and go from there." Hear from Petersen in this TransFARMation episode.
Episode Description: One of the most stressful situations for farm families is the transition of passing that farm from one generation to the next. Russ Tweiten focuses on succession planning for AgCountry Farm Credit Services. It can be difficult to hand over the reins. "Farmers who went through the 1980s know what it's like to struggle and don't want to turn the farm over and lose it," says Tweiten. "Give it some time and allow senior farmers to work their way out." To be successful in the transition process, communication is key. "The thing I sometimes tell people is don't let your shop be the Las Vegas of the farm. It should be shared and talked to with the rest of the family." Hear more from Tweiten in this episode of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: Women on the farm face a unique set of stressors. Not only are they actively engaged in the farm business, but they also have vital roles in the household and with the family. Brenda Mack and Shauna Reitmeier are featured in this edition of TransFARMation. Brenda is an assistant professor at Bemidji State University and is a mental health consultant. She grew up on a farm at East Grand Forks, Minnesota and is married to a Crookston farmer. Shauna is the head of the Northwestern Mental Health Center at Crookston and was also raised on a farm. In the TransFARMation podcast, Mack said we need the ability to say no. “Oftentimes as women, we’re asked to do things in the community or church or in the family. We feel guilty for not saying yes. We’re helpers and we know it needs to get done; it is okay to say no.” There may be signals when farm stress becomes overwhelming for family or friends. “People don’t show up at different activities or the farm is looking a little more disheveled, it gives us an awareness to start asking questions,” said Reitmeier. “Be there as support, not with judgement.” Brenda and Shauna co-host the Cultivating Resiliency webinars, which are available on the American Agri-Women website https://americanagriwomen.org/.
Episode Description: Doug Bichler, who ranches at Linton, North Dakota, was in a farm accident two years ago while baleing hay. Before Doug even thought about what he was doing, he reached over to pull out a stray piece of net wrap. "One of the belts must have grabbed my hand. Before I knew it, I was getting pulled in." His life changed in an instant. While Doug lost his entire right arm as a result of the accident, he continues to ranch today. That is helped out by a positive attitude. "Obviously having one arm is a challenge. There are days I do get frustrated. But, I've come up with different ways to accomplish tasks and am doing just about everything I was doing before." Doug has learned a lot since the accident and says a big source of anxiety can be comparing yourself to others. "It seems like there is this constant competition we put ourselves in and that's a dangerous place to be. You just have to focus on what you're doing and do the best you can."
Episode Description: Mary Nell Preisler has been involved in the Minnesota Farmer-Lender Mediation Program since the farm crisis of the 1980s and now serves as the statewide coordinator. A farmer in debt has the opportunity to renegotiate, restructure or resolve debt through mediation. "It seems to me that sometimes people are just paralyzed; they don't know which way to turn," says Preisler. As a neutral party, the mediator can facilitate open communication and help resolve financial differences. You can learn more in this edition of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: One of the biggest sources of stress in agriculture is transitioning the farm from one generation to the next. Farmer, author and speaker Jolene Brown encourages farmers to operate as a business-first family. “What that means is you honor the family so much, you will do the business right,” says Brown. “When you start operating as a business and get some management tools into place, you’re more productive, profitable and have some piece of mind.” Relationships and communication are are important, especially for those in family-based businesses like farming. “Farmers are superior at weeds and seeds, machinery and money, but they can be crappy with people. So make sure there is a leader who understands they’re in the people business.” You can hear more from Jolene in this episode of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: As a teenager, McKenzie Darling was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. The Langdon, North Dakota native has also had family members and friends that died by suicide. Today, Darling is a mental health advocate who speaks frequently on the warning signs of suicide and trying to “restore hope for those who are feeling hopeless.” Darling sees a need to break down the wall of stigma about mental health. Darling comes from a farming family and says there are many things that are out of the farmer’s control. “You can’t control the rain, hail or what your neighbor is spraying on a windy day.” While it’s okay to be upset or feel anxious, McKenzie encourages farmers to find someone to talk with about it. “It can be a fellow farmer or your best friend. You just need to get that anger or sadness out of your system so you can refill and be ready to go again.” Hear more from McKenzie in the latest edition of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: On February 8, 2017, Nathan Zahradka of Adams, North Dakota took his own life. Dale Zahradka, Nathan's father, describes his son as a very caring, gentle person who loved farming and the outdoors. “When he grew up, Nathan was fun and full of life. As that started to slip away, I wish we could have seen that. I want others to see that is possible in their families. They can stop it before it ends.” Dale goes on to say it is extremely hard to share his son's story. "As much as we don’t want to share it, we need to. The stigma of suicide has been to sweep it under the carpet and not talk about it. It is an illness, like cancer, but there is help available.” In this edition of TransFARMation, Dale Zahradka shares his son’s story.
Episode Description: With weather, volatile markets and farm policy, everyone acknowledges that there is an issue with farm stress. Yet, it is an issue that people often don't talk about and it can be difficult to ask for help. Doug Kramer, who farms at Bejou, Minnesota, went through the farm crisis of the 1980s, which has many similarities to today. During that time, Doug took the brave step to see a therapist. "The first few times I went, I felt like I didn't want anyone to know or to see me, but after a couple visits, I guess I didn't care if anyone saw me because I knew I needed help." Monica Kramer McConkey is a farm kid, who for the past 25 years has worked in the field of behavior health. Today, Monica works for Prairie St. John's and has a consulting firm called Eyes on the Horizon. In this edition of TransFARMation, Monica joins her Dad in a conversation about farm stress.
Episode Description: Farmers have a lot coming at them right now, including low commodity prices, uncertain trade policies and weather delays during the rush of a busy planting season. None of these issues are things that farmers can control. When overwhelmed, it can be easy to stick our head in the sand and not deal with these problems. Ted Matthews, who is the rural health counselor for the State of Minnesota, says it is important to concentrate on what you can control. "Know what you have in front of you and what you have control over and focus on those things. Getting those things done will be a positive thing." Matthews takes calls from farmers every day, helping them maneuver through difficult times. In this edition of TransFARMation, Matthews offers ideas for farmers who are struggling.
Episode Description: Theresia Gillie of Hallock, Minnesota is a survivor. Faced with financial challenges, her husband, Keith, took his own life just over two years ago. "It isn't something you get over, it's something you live with." Life has changed for Theresia. "The life I knew no longer existed. I don't get to have my old life back." Theresia is feeling stronger. From her own experience, she encourages others to be aware and be ready to help. "Watch out for your neighbors. Look for anything not normal. If they're struggling, help them out." Theresia continues to farm today, sharing equipment with two of her neighbors. You can hear her emotional story in this edition of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: Episode Description: After a few tough years farming in the 1980s, Randy Koenen found a new career in farm radio. "I do miss farming at some points, but there are a lot of things I don't miss; I don't miss the stress," said Randy. "I was under immense pressure. I couldn't sleep at night, and I wasn't eating. Once I made the decision to step away, a big weight was lifted off my shoulders." For farmers that are struggling, Randy encourages them to consider the many options. "As farmers, we're builders, we're electricians, we're mechanics, we're truck drivers. As farmers, we have a skill set where we can do just about anything." Randy shares his story in this edition of TransFARMation.
Episode Description: The Red River Farm Network is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on a new radio and podcast series called TransFARMation. In the inaugural episode, Little Falls, Minnesota dairy farmer Brenda Rudolph shares her story about transitioning the family business. "Every farm transition is different, but the biggest thing is the struggle of being open and communication on the plan." As a couple, Brenda and her husband, Nathan, have a quarterly business meeting. "We treat it very professional. We need to communicate and so we created a set time for a meeting and it is not just by the bulk tank talking, this is business time." In addition to this podcast, Brenda's thoughts can be found on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.
If you have a story idea for TransFARMation, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact any of the advisory team members listed below.
- Jodi Bruns, North Dakota State University Extension
- Brandon Delvo, North Dakota Farmers Union
- Ron Dvergsten, Northland Community & Technical College
- Jean Johnson, AgCountry Farm Credit Services
- Riley Maanum, Minnesota Farm Bureau
- Monica McConkey, Prairie St Johns, Fargo
- Meg Moynihan, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
- Brenda Rudolph, Minnesota Dairy Farmer
- Don Wick, Red River Farm Network
*Broadcasts are solely the responsibility of RRFN and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, NIOSH or the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health.