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July 19, 2018

7/9/2018 9:27:00 AM
Farmer focused workshop provides tools to support family farms
With market volatility causing many struggles within the agricultural industry, it comes with no surprise that mental health and stress have been major considerations for farmers.
To address those concerns, UW-Extension and Upland Hills Health came together and sponsored the "Farmer Focused, Family Focused" workshop. The event took place on Wednesday June 27.
Sarah Weier, Family Living Educator at Iowa County UW-Extension, began the presentation by stating that she would be wearing both a farm and extension hat. She stated that farm related stress hits many families, and she emphasized the importance of the workshop.
"Our goals today are to not work on saving the family farm, but to really wrap our arms around the farm families in our community," Weier said to the group. "We want, especially those who don't have a lot of background in agriculture or are around it everyday, to understand the forces and issues that are happening in our rural communities."
Weier continued addressing the 40 or more group in attendance that it's important to recognize unhealthy behaviors, not just suicide. Other unhealthy behaviors include sleep deprivation, poor eating choices, smoking, addictions, and possibly abuse.
"If you have one take away from today, it's just the one simple gestures, maybe a handshake, humor, or a touch on the shoulder, a hug, mean a lot to us farmers," Weier continued.
Farm stress also is a personal factor for Weier, and she recalled a story that while her family farm was testing their milk, her father had a fatal heart attack 40 years ago. The DHI milk tester on site didn't have any CPR certifications, however they still really have a strong connection with that milk tester.
She continued by saying that farmers are really isolated, and those who visit the farms are typically the ones who see some concerning signs.
"Just take care of yourselves, because you can't take care of yourself if you're not in a good place," said Weier.
Debbie Heth , UW-Extension's summer intern then presented information packets discussing factors related to farm stress, and tell-tale signs to look for indicating a farmer may need help.
Gene Schreifer, Agriculture Agent for Iowa County UW-Extension, started by saying that "Farmers are eternal optimists. They always believe things will get better."
He then presented some sobering farm statistics and stated that lots of farm stress stems from financial struggles. In March of 2012, corn prices were around $4.00, before the drought, followed by a downward trend in prices. He pointed out that not every acre in Iowa County is considered equal, due to variations in yields. He said that there is the argument that some fields could be rented out without being cropped and could still move ahead.
Some other statistics he presented were based on optimistic and pessimistic forecasts. The optimist forecast for corn prices within the next 10 years are projected to be $3.71 per bushel, followed by a pessimistic $3.44 corn price. For soybeans, the projected optimistic price forecast is $9.76 per bushel, followed by a $9.55 per bushel pessimistic price. The 10-year optimistic price forecast is projected to be $18.00 per cwt, which is the same price as the current cost of production. The pessimistic price forecast is projected to be $17.44 in 10 years. For beef cattle, the optimistic 10-year price forecast for finished steers is projected to be $120.00, followed by a $93.00 pessimistic price forecast.
"This isn't going to go away," Schreifer said. "We have to figure out how to help farmers make hard decisions and support them through the process."
"I'm just trying to help farmers make some different decisions of maybe repurposing some different acres and look for some alternatives that can add a little bit more profitability back to the farmers," Schreifer concluded.
The next guest speaker was Jeff Ditzenberger, a farmer from Argyle. There is a statistic that says individuals can handle two major stressors before having someone helping them with other stressors. Ditzenberger has had three or more stressors hit him simultaneously.
Ditzenberger started by saying that there is less conversation happening between individuals in today's time. Ditzenberger was born on a farm in South Wayne, WI, and served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Desert Storm in Afghanistan. After returning from service, he came back working in the agriculture industry with a company that manufactures alfalfa cubes for rabbits and other small animals.
While in the Navy serving overseas, his wife had cheated on him. He also started having posttraumatic stress symptoms from his time during the war. Those symptoms were factors that prompted him to start drinking.
"I didn't just drink at night, I also drank in the morning," Ditzenberger said.
He said when even discussing his issues with coworkers, they came back with the response, "Suck it up buttercup."
"Those are three words I hate," Ditzenberger said.
He had thrown a birthday party for his mother, who is a prominent figure in his life. After many mixed drinks with his father, a fire call came in which prompted some more posttraumatic stress. For four months he had contemplated suicide and he attempted by setting fire to an abandoned house.
He stated that he became a "suicide failure" when he discovered that his suicide note was in his pocket.
"By some divine intervention, I'm still here," Ditzenberger said.
With therapy, and a short-term stay in an institution, he realized that he didn't have it as bad as some of the people that were in there.
"It gave me time to reflect and understand myself more," Ditzenberger said.
After improvement, Ruf's Farm Service in Lafayette County, hired him, which led him to a sales position selling New Holland, John Deere, and Case IH Ag Equipment.
He said that one of the most important things he's learned is that people need to look for warning signs: when asking people on their well-being most people are not prepared for responses such as "not so good."
"We need to make farmers more comfortable coming forward," Ditzenberger said. "There are people out there willing to listen."
*The next segment of the farmer-focused workshop will follow in an upcoming issue.

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