Study Says American Farmers are Committing Suicides Five Times the Average
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a study revealing that American farmers are committing suicide at rates significantly above the average population. The data showed that the suicide rate among farmers is now 84.5 per 100,000 people which is five times the rate of the population as a whole. The study compiled the suicide rate by counting workers across 17 states in the farming, fishing and forestry industries.
Farmer Suicide Spikes
The last period when U.S. farmers committed suicides on a significant scale was in the 1980s when farmers in rural areas faced horrible economic difficulties. Similar spikes have occurred in other countries, like India where 60,000 farmers committed suicides in situations linked to climate change. Health experts have associated the prevailing farmer suicides with increasing occupational stress and emotional depression.
“The farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression,” said Jennifer Fahy to CBS News. Fahy is the communications director with Farm Aid, a group founded in 1985 that advocates for farmers, but today, she said, “I think it’s actually worse.”
Several Factors Linked To Increased US Farmer Suicide Rate
One of the factors linked to the suicide spike is declining farm revenues. A professor of agricultural economics from Purdue University in Indiana, Chris Hurt, disclosed that the current incomes farmers are generating are the same or worse as years ago. “Think about trying to live today on the income you had 15 years ago,” he said.
“The current incomes we’ve seen for the last three years … have been about like farm incomes from early in this century,” said Hurt.
Extreme weather events that threaten crop yields and productivity is also another problem confronting farmers. The out of control nature and unpredictability of weather adds stress to farmers.
The third factor facing farmers is the falling prices of commodities in the market, causing farmers to sell for lower than what they invested in growing the crops. This situation leaves hard-working farmers impoverished and depressed after harvest and when their goods enter the market.
“We’ve spoken to dairy farmers who are losing money on every pound of milk they sell,” said Alana Knudson, co-director of the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis with the University of Chicago.
There is also the consequences of tariffs America’s trading partners impose on U.S. crops and rising interest rates set by the Federal Reserve which make financing more expensive for farmers.
“A lot of our farmers take out operating loans so they can buy seed, fertilizer and spray. As we’re looking at increasing interest rates, this is going to exacerbate financial vulnerability,” said Alana Knudson, co-director of the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis with the University of Chicago.
These situations have forced many American farmers to take up second jobs. CBS reported three-quarters of farmers have to rely on non-farming income.
Access to health insurance and especially mental health is crucial but difficult for farmers. Farmers may live in rural areas where there is little in the way of healthcare options. There is also a stigma around mental health which may prevent farmers from seeking out help.
“Farmer stress right now is extremely high, the farm economy is very precarious and not predicted to improve in the near future,” Fahy told CBS. However, she added, “When there are steps in place to address the root cause, which is usually financial and legal, the stress becomes manageable.”