Blog | February 1, 2010

Farmers and Suicide: Help is Available

JoelHere at Farm Aid we are deeply saddened by the recent suicide of dairy farmer Dale Pierson in Copake, New York. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his surviving family. An obituary describes Pierson as a tireless worker and an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed helping friends and other farmers. The family asks that mourners, in lieu of flowers, consider sending a donation to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

We understand that reasons for farmer suicide may be strictly personal and unrelated to farming. However, we also know that the national dairy crisis, now well into its second year, has significantly heightened stress levels for thousands of dairy farmers across the nation. A report from The Daily Mail of Greene County, New York, touches on this reality.

Whatever personal reasons Pierson may have had for taking his own life, we can be sure that they were exacerbated by the crisis that all dairy farmers have been experiencing for more than a year now. No matter how hard they work, the nation’s family dairy farmers are losing money every time they milk their cows due to a broken pricing system that fails to take into account the real cost to farmers of producing milk. Often, farmers and their families have no choice but to squarely face and try to fend off the bleak prospect of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and, finally, the erasure of a cherished way of life. Though farmer suicide (and suicide generally) is notoriously under-reported, available evidence indicates that the farmer suicide rate is climbing and likely to get worse as the dairy crisis continues. A Wall Street Journal blog posting, helps to clarify the worsening situation.

Farmers, with the help of their families and friends, must understand that they need not endure an overwhelming situation by themselves. It is crucial to get the word out that help is available. Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network and Hotline (1-800-FARM-AID) directs farmers to mental health and suicide prevention assistance all over the country. In the Midwest, for example, the Sowing Seeds of Help program directs uninsured, under-insured, and at-risk farmers and farm workers to rural helplines in seven different states. They can also help direct farmers to rural health services elsewhere in the country. Nationally, farmers can find toll-free, 24/7 suicide prevention and emotional crisis hotlines at or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. Spanish speaking callers may use 1-888-628-9454.

Farmers are known for their willingness to help a neighbor who is in trouble. Let’s all return the favor before it’s too late.

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