Those of us working on the Farm Aid Hotline have experienced a major increase in call and email volume recently. Like most of us in the United States, farmers have been hit hard by inflation for the cost of essential goods and services. Skyrocketing input costs greatly increase risk for our farmers who are also facing climate extremes of every kind. Many areas of the country have had record flooding while others are in a multiyear drought that seems to have no end in sight. Farmers are both tough and independent, but many are nearing their breaking point, accounting for the upsurge in our call volume.
Throughout the month of August, Hotline Operator Molly Carey noticed similar trends in her hotline cases. Molly spoke to multiple farmers in Texas, California, Oklahoma and Nebraska struggling with drought and water management. Many of these farmers and ranchers have gone through extensive periods without rainfall, are lacking adequate irrigation infrastructure for crops and livestock forage, and are struggling to keep their animals fed. Molly also spoke to several farmers in Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Washington struggling due to the effect inflation has had on farm inputs and operating costs. These farmers are struggling to be able to afford typical farming expenses such as feed, seed, fertilizer and fuel due to inflated prices. Despite these increasingly prevalent issues, the overwhelming majority of Molly’s hotline cases in August were from beginning and future farmers seeking start-up funding and land access resources in order to establish their farm businesses. Molly finds it encouraging to hear the enthusiasm these farmers have about bringing their farming visions to reality in order to feed their communities.
Hotline operator Rachel Van Boven says the increase in calls from farmers is essentially boiling down to inflation and high input costs, and weather-related stresses. As far as weather-related stress, Rachel has heard from a lot of farmers impacted by the drought in the West, and other extreme weather events around the country. Rachel says, “The drought has been going on for a very long time, and folks have been using up their reserves until now, a couple years down the road, they will be out. Some of it is still related to Covid as well. Folks are hanging on to get through it, but it’s now 2.5 years on, and things are starting to really fray. There are some massive crises going on, that have been ongoing, and it feels like it’s taking its toll on even the most resilient folks. While these crises impact almost every farmer, it seems like it has had the greatest impact on “beginning farmers,” folks who have been farming for less than 10 years. It takes a while to establish a farm business, and the first few years are precarious. However, still surprisingly, many of our calls are also from folks looking to get into farming!”
“It’s helpful just to have someone listen and understand our needs, thanks for being there to take my call and offer resource options.”
All farmers have a kinship, and they know they are one extreme weather event from disaster, such as the recent floods in Eastern Kentucky. However, not every call is from a farmer in distress. It’s more than a little encouraging when we hear from farmers who call the hotline wanting to help other farmers. Sometimes all we can do is just encourage farmers and let them know they are not alone and connect them to farmers who want to help their fellow farmers. The Hotline team tries our best to point farmers to both private and government sources of assistance wherever it can be found. As one recent caller told us, “It’s helpful just to have someone listen and understand our needs, thanks for being there to take my call and offer resource options.”
Farmers in difficult financial circumstances are a large percentage of our calls and emails but more than half of our contacts are from beginning and future farmers. Some are military veterans motivated to make the farm both a profitable business and a form of personal therapy. We find that those coming from the military are dedicated to a mission whether it’s protecting our country or starting a small farm. They are task-oriented and are very familiar with stressful conditions. Another hopeful trend is the number of young people who are not from a farming background but want to start a new farm. It is our privilege to try and help farmers and future farmers like these on a daily basis.
We all know that farming is a challenging occupation in the best of times, but the double whammy of extreme weather events and high input costs are particularly difficult coming immediately after a worldwide pandemic that impacted farmers just as much, if not more than, the rest of the economy. Farm stress is extremely high and sometimes farmers need help dealing with that stress. This is another significant subset of callers we hear from. It’s not a stretch to say most of our calls from experienced farmers have stress related issues as an underlying, if not front and center, concern. We can be a listening ear but often farmers need more help than we can provide, and we try to connect them with mental health experts who understand farm related stressors. Thankfully we have more resources to which to refer farmers than ever before so they can get the help they need.
Despite the difficulty of both established farms and those trying to get started, the mission of Farm Aid to “keep family farmers on the land” remains unchanged. As our founder Willie Nelson said, “After more than 30 years, we are still here, you’re still here, and together we’re still fighting for the farmers. The fight ain’t over yet but we’re gaining on those suckers, so stay with us.” The Hotline Team is proud to be a part of this fight.
If you are a farmer, Farm Aid is here for you.
We have more than 35 years of experience working with farmers – whether you’re looking to expand your farm or you’re in need of emergency resources. When you contact Farm Aid, our goal is to connect you with helpful services, resources and opportunities specific to your individual needs. Our Farmer Resource Network offers many ways for you to connect.