A friend included me in an email chain informing us of a farmer he knew who recently took his life. I don’t pretend to begin to know this man’s pain or anything about his situation. But the story struck me as beyond sad.
Responses in the email chain spoke of the stress of farming, peer pressure to follow traditional practices, financial stress, the personal health and the ecological consequences of reliance on ag chemicals, and more. I don’t know how much this man’s pain had to do with the farm and how much stemmed from other things. The emails made it seem like the farm had a lot to do with it. That’s understandable. Agriculture is stressful. Compounding the physical demands is the financial pressure, the uncertainty of weather and markets, the weight of expectations to continue a multigenerational legacy, and the peer pressure to conform to the status quo.
After reading the emails I found myself sad and frustrated. Sad for this man’s pain and the unimaginable pain his family and others who knew him must feel. Frustrated because agriculture doesn’t have to be this way.
Please understand, this column is not about this farmer or his suicide. This tragic event is the trigger that got me thinking about an industry-wide issue. Rates of depression and suicide in farming and ranching are disproportionately high relative to other segments of the population. That seems particularly strange given that most farmers and ranchers consider ranching and farming to be a lifestyle first and a business second. If their farms and ranches were a business first and a lifestyle second, I think the emotional well-being of farmers and ranchers would improve. One RFP grad summed it up well when he said, “When we focused on our lifestyle all we did was work our butts off. When we focused on the business, our lives got so much better.”
We grow up learning that the harder we work, the more successful we will be. But as many farmers and ranchers work harder and harder, they fall further and further behind. If hard physical work were the solution to our problems, our problems would be fewer and smaller. Working harder is NOT the answer. In fact, it is part of the problem. We’ve become so busy working in the business that we don’t have the time or energy to work on the business. Of course, if we were to work on our businesses effectively, we wouldn’t have to work so hard in them.
There’s something else that keeps us from working on our businesses. I don’t think many farmers or ranchers know how. Growing up we learned how to grow crops and raise livestock. No one ever showed us how to run a business that grows crops and raises livestock.
The Ranching For Profit School is not a school on farming or ranching. It is a business school that teaches farmers and ranchers how to transform their farms and ranches into successful businesses. When participants walk in Sunday afternoon, most own a collection of expensive assets and a bunch of physically-demanding, low-paying jobs. By the time they leave, they own a business. Until farmers and ranchers change this fundamental paradigm, they will continue to struggle economically, financially and emotionally.
Focusing on business before lifestyle won’t eliminate the stresses farmers and ranchers face, but it does put us in a much stronger, healthier position to deal with those stresses. I’m convinced that if farmers and ranchers embraced a business-first approach there’d be a lot fewer tragedies like the one my friend shared with me.
If you want to see how transformative the business-first approach can be, watch this video: VIDEO