American farmers are dying by suicide, eco-anxiety is on the rise, and agribusiness is at the center of this growing mental health crisis. For generations, and with great pride, family farmers have tended the same land as their great-great-grandparents, producing healthy food and caring for the environment by being good stewards of their land. Today, family farmers are approaching danger status due to the takeover of their farms by companies.
Agri-food companies have devoured family farms for three decades: the nation has lost more than 100,000 family farms between 2011 and 2018. The remaining farmers are under constant threat of losing their land and way of life, which higher suicide rates than any other profession.
The industrialized agricultural model used by agrifood companies contributes to the acceleration of the climate change, and the climate crisis has generated a new mental health phenomenon called eco-anxiety. America’s mental health system is unprepared for the growing pressure to treat people worried about overall loss plant and animal diversity. Family farms are fundamental to the health and well-being of our environment and our communities, however, unethical practices of industrialized agriculture increase rates of eco-anxiety and lead farmers to commit suicide. .
Farmers are at the heart of our modern food supply chain, and without them most of us would struggle to survive. For centuries, family farms have provided for their communities by growing nutrient-dense foods, materials for clothing, and shelter. The farming lifestyle is steeped in American culture, but farming is temperamental and has always been a stressful occupation. Farmers are constantly grappling with unpredictable storms or droughts, local and global price fluctuations, the cost of machinery, seeds and chemicals, and competition. Although the pressures farmers face are not new, agriculture has changed in recent years; policies that once supported farmers now support agribusiness.
Corporate domination is “very bad news for farmers and everyone who eats because these companies are just going to get more powerful and have even more economic and political influence.
There are no longer policies that controlled the overproduction of crops, ensuring that family farmers receive a fair price for their product and allowing more diverse small farms to thrive. Agri-food companies have influenced Congress and affected lending policies which doubled interest rates, further taxing the mental and emotional capacities of farmers.
The decline of the American family farm began in the 1980s, and the suicide rate among farmers intensified, during the worst agricultural economic crisis since the Great Depression. This crisis was linked to change loan policies where in some cases the interest rates went from 7% to 18% overnight.
Prior to the 1980s, farmers maintained relationships with their local bankers and could renegotiate loans if necessary. But, agribusiness lobbyists changed the way bankers could offer loans to farmers, making it nearly impossible to get loans at low interest rates.
Thirty years ago, small and medium-sized farms accounted for almost half of all agricultural production in the United States, now it’s less than a quarter.
Agribusinesses can get federally guaranteed low interest loans that are not available to most family farmers. The system was “created for the benefit of the factory farm company and its shareholders at the expense of family farmers, real people, our environment, our food system.” As a result, depression and suicidal thoughts are common among family farmers who once took pride in providing their country’s food supply.
A farmer in Kansas remembers: “In the last 25 to 30 years, not a day goes by that I don’t think about suicide. For farmers squeezed out by agribusiness companies, their desperation grows every day.
Family farmers who previously relied on a mixture of livestock and crops have converted their farms into the one thing that will make them money: growing corn and soybeans to sell them to food companies.
This strategy is currently being severely tested by falling crop prices, low yields on agricultural assets, changing rains linked to global warming and retaliation from China regarding tariffs on American agricultural products. In 2019, “China’s announcement that it will not buy any agricultural products from the United States is a blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already in trouble. “Falling prices, climate change, tariffs and the resulting economic stress have created a perfect storm for the increase in the number of farmers committing suicide.
the suicide farmer The tragedy is not limited to the United States. In India, more than 270,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1995; an Australian farmer commits suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer per week commits suicide; in France, a farmer commits suicide every two days. The industrialization of the agricultural sector affects all corners of the globe, and the impact on mental health is increasing exponentially. No country or culture is immune from the destruction created by industrialized agriculture.
Before the era of chemical agriculture, farmers worked together with nature to ensure strong and healthy agricultural ecosystems. Corporate or industrialized agriculture, the dominant model used for food cultivation, treats farms as factories of cultivation and ranching. This method does not promote animal health, soil health or plant diversity, but rather relies on pest control chemicals and fertilizers. The toxic chemicals used pollute the soil, waterways and the air. Industrialized agriculture threatens the livelihoods of farmers, the environment and a country’s food security. Lack of respect and mismanagement of farmland is accelerating climate change and increasing mental health problems.
Industrialized agriculture not only destroys the lives of farmers and their families; it is one of the main contributors to eco-anxiety or climatic mourning. Chronic fear of environmental disaster is wreaking havoc on the mental health of people around the world. Anxiety and distress in the face of environmental degradation is increasing rapidly among young people, who increasingly lose hope for their future. A December 2018 poll found that seventy percent of Americans are concerned about the climate crisis.
Mental health professionals have braced for an increase in the number of clients facing climate grief, but admit they are unprepared for the growing problem. There are more and more support groups to help people feel the effects of climate grief. A support group, The right mourning network, offers a 10-step program that helps people coping with collective mourning, including climatic mourning. It works online as well as in-person groups. More mental health experts are expected as the ecological chaos intensifies and more people need support services.
Agriculture is a vocation, it is an altruistic profession. Family farmers have a strong desire to provide the essential elements for the life of their communities and their country. When they are unable to accomplish their life goal, desperation takes over, sometimes ending their lives. Farmers commonly express “it hits you so hard when you feel like you are the one who is lose the inheritance that your great-grandparents started. To dominate our food system by agribusiness is to lose the knowledge and wisdom about how to raise animals, how to grow food and how to protect our environment. It also makes all countries vulnerable to food insecurity. The health and well-being of individuals, our communities and our planet depend on the mental health of family farmers, not of agribusinesses.