It is June 4th. Here in Ilderton, Ontario, on our farm, an operation of approximately 600 acres, we do NOT have a single seed planted in the ground!
In Steve’s 45 years here on earth, on this particular farm he does not recollect a spring like this one. Historically planting has been WRAPPED up by the 1st of June, give or take a little on that timeline. Never, has Steve ever been this late in STARTING to plant. “Mother Nature” is wrecking havoc on the farming community this year, and sadly that isn’t just in our small community in which we live, it is world wide. We are seeing farms out west in a position of drought already, snow on the east coast, and of course issues of floods and constant rain not only in Canada, but many parts of the United States.
We thought 2018 was a perfect storm in farming for us. We weren’t able to get our wheat planted at all due to the wet fall, meaning no income this August, and no straw to sell over the winter. We had vomitoxin in our corn, which many took a hit on when it was time to sell. Because of the wet conditions we didn’t get nearly as much hay as we would usually get off, missing an entire cut because we couldn’t get to it with all the water. These things combined meant for a tight winter financially. We look to hay and straw sales throughout the winter to keep the farm financially stable.
As it turns out 2019 will be the most stressful year to date in our farming experience. In our operation we rely on three major sources of income each year to carry the farm through. A cheque for the wheat crop usually in August, a cheque for the soybean crop usually in October, and a cheque for the corn crop usually in December/January. Those three cheques are the bread and butter for the farm. We will be without the wheat cheque in August, period. We are currently at 0 acres planted for both corn and soybeans. The deadlines are looming, June 15th for corn, and June 30th for soybeans. The long range weather is crap.
Very recently mental health has become of great concern in the agriculture industry, and for very good reason. Unlike many 9-5 jobs, farming is a game of chance. There are absolutely no guarantees. We risk it all every single day that we get out of bed. With huge debt loads to carry, inconsistent climate, daily sometimes hourly changes in the markets, government rules and regulations, negative media, activists, and little support at times for this way of life, it can bring you down in a hurry.
In the 13 years I’ve known Steve, I’ve never seen the stress in his face and on shoulders as I have lately. Don’t get me wrong, this is and always has been his passion, and I think that at times is what makes it worse. He does not want to fail, he does not want to give up his passion to do this, and yet so much of it is out of his control.
As I write this I can hear him on the phone with Agricorp, where we get our crop insurance. For the first time he is calling to discuss what happens in the event of unseeded acres. At this point we need 3 or 4 strong days of heat and sunshine to get us on the land…it’s supposed to rain for the next two days, and we never seem to get more then 2 days in a row of decent weather. The deadline is rapidly closing in.
There are so many factors in this era of farming that contribute to mental health. We have experienced the hard way that everything can change in an instant. A year and a half ago, one phone call changed our entire year. A land owner calls to let you know that land you have tirelessly worked for 15+ years, is now no longer yours, and you go from 155 acres of corn to 95, cutting your corn income by 40% for the year with no notice, and no opportunity to make it up for that year. Or the vet comes to preg check cows and you come up with several in the herd not pregnant, you find out the bull wasn’t functioning correctly, your field of soybeans gets hit by hail striping every leaf, your wheat field gets hit by frost and doesn’t come up in multiple areas, the hay field you planted just last year that should last four years doesn't have any alfalfa growing in it, rendering it utterly useless, but is too wet to get on and plow up to reseed.
Of course with this era, we also have the media to be concerned about, all the haters out there who want to tear down farmers and make them feel like the dirt on their shoes. The people who make us feel small for farming the best way we know how. The people who come into the store in which you have built with your own blood, sweat and tears, attempting to offer the best products you can, and tell you they won’t shop there because Costco is cheaper or because you aren’t “organic”, not even understanding what or why they are using some of the buzz words they have heard through the media. The activists who want nothing more than to destroy the family farm you have built up through many, many sacrifices, pain and love.
With all of this said, in our personal experience, our faith is strong and we rely on God to get us through. It would be a very dark, and dismal place for us if we didn’t believe in our Creator. We are never promised that life will be easy. We are never promised that all will go as planned. We are never promised that we won’t experience highs and lows.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
While we are still human and lose sleep over different circumstances, we know who is in control, and we know who we need to rely on. That gets us through our days. His plan is much greater than ours, and while we don’t think that His plan matches ours all the time, the bigger picture always looks better. So for now we sit, and wait, and pray. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 11:12
Because of our faith we can look at the upside in these stressful times. We are blessed to have access to crop insurance. While it doesn’t come close to covering what you would get if you grew the crop and sold it, it does cover some costs involved. We are blessed to work with institutions like Farm Credit Canada, whom sent out letters in the fall supporting farmers who are struggling, by working with them to help get through these uncertain times. We are blessed to have the store that we have worked dang hard at growing over the last several years. The saying that “when you support a small business you support a family”, couldn't ring more true in this case. Without the store this year would look a whole lot different for us. Right now it IS what is carrying us. We are also beyond blessed for friends and family that are lifting us and our farm up in prayer, and supporting us by being an ear to listen.
The biggest thing it seems when talking about mental health in any aspect is to keep talking. To keep communicating, to reach out when times are tough, to find support through whatever channels possible. Farmers tend to keep things close to the belt, they don’t like to share too much as they always seem to be under fire for something. We need to change that. We need to be able to have comfortable conversations, we need to be able to talk openly, and not feel judged.
The reality is, farming is tough. A big job with very little control. Feelings of negativity, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, disappointment, overwhelming pressure, and darkness can and do very easily creep in. If you know a farmer, keep them talking, give them an outlet. While it can be the lowest of lows sometimes, it can also be the highest of highs, so celebrate those with them too! Good things come from hard work and perseverance, and I believe “this too shall pass”. We need to be a world that supports one another, building each other up, not tearing each other down. Let’s be who we were created to be…kind, caring, compassionate and empathetic to name a few. 💕