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There is a mantra in farm and ranch country that often goes something like, “Farmers are a resilient and self-reliant bunch.” While that’s mostly true, we don’t often hear farmers and ranchers say those words out loud. For most of us, it’s just not part of our nature.

Some like to repeat those words in every conversation as a way to poke and prod others into believing many of the same things they believe. There’s no shortage of pride in farm country, nor should there be. We love what we do, and we’re good at it.

These conversations can be harmful, too. Let me explain.

Farm income is projected to be 50 percent less than 2013. Farm bankruptcies are up 96 percent, according to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Dakota. More than half of America’s farmers lost money last year, according to recent data by USDA. FirstLink, which runs the 2-1-1 suicide hotline in North Dakota, continues to see increases in its call volume. Farm suicides are happening, so Farmers Union Insurance made a donation of $20,000 to help FirstLink handle the extra volume of calls, but we can all do our part.

When you’re around other farmers at the local café and someone mentions the mantra of self-reliance, remind them that it’s OK to ask for help. When that mantra is repeated, a farmer or rancher on the edge – economically and emotionally – may think about how it would look to their friends and community if they decide to ask for help. 

Instead of getting that necessary help for themselves and their families, they believe they can do it on their own, unwilling to acknowledge that the burden has become too heavy.

We, as farmers, often shy away from these topics, retreating back to the “go it alone” approach. We need to keep our eyes and ears open for the signs and remember that we’re all in this together. We want farm families to get the help they need and hopefully, stay on the land.

Take some time to learn the signs, not just for you but for your neighbors in farm country. We have a page at ndfu.org dedicated to this issue. Please keep all of this in mind when you have your conversations this spring.

Never forget that it is the farmer and rancher that enable all of us to live our lives with low-cost, quality food.

– NDFU President Mark Watne