Farm Crisis: Flooding

Farmers Wash Up ‘in a Fragile Place’ After Historic Midwest Floods

Farmers Wash Up ‘in a Fragile Place’ After Historic Midwest Floods

Farmers
Julie and Phil Henneman, who lost their son Keith to suicide in 2006, when he was 29, talk about the experience outside the old farmhouse in Boscobel, Wisconsin. The devastating Midwest floods this spring increased concerns about the mental health and well-being of farmers who already were struggling with yearslong economic uncertainty.
Amber Arnold Wisconsin State Journal via AP

If you need help, call the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline.

In the weeks after flooding drowned the livelihoods of families who’ve farmed along the Missouri River for generations, rural advocates in the Midwest began gearing up for another crisis.

The devastating floods increased concerns about the mental health and well-being of farmers who already were struggling with yearslong economic uncertainty. Groups in flood-affected states such as Nebraska say they are preparing to provide mental and emotional support to devastated farmers. Meanwhile, the federal government has yet to begin implementing a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network that was revived in the 2018 farm bill.

Farmers have weathered years of a slow decline, but advocates worry they could crumble under the sudden pressures created by the natural disaster. Tough financial situations are a key driver of mental distress among farmers, according to experts.

“We’re in a fragile place because once you get through the flood itself and the adrenaline wears off, then the enormity of the flood and the consequences settle in,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

“There’s a huge emotional load if you’re the one who loses the family business, especially if that business is how you define yourself as a person,” Hansen said.Brandi Wagner

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Long after a big hurricane blows through, its effects hammer the mental-health system.

Many farmers have persisted over five years of low commodity prices, further strained by the Trump administration’s trade tariffs. Meanwhile, net farm income has fallen nearly 50% from its peak in 2013, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in written testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture in late February, weeks before the flooding.

Farm debt has risen more rapidly over the past five years, increasing by nearly a third since 2013 to levels last seen during the 1980s, according to Perdue’s testimony.

And though loan demand remains historically high, the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Farm Loan Program in 2018 saw another slight annual decline in lending. “Increasing farm financial stress could lead commercial lenders to seek more loan guarantees,” Perdue said, while the Farm Service Agency may see an increase in repayment difficulties.

Difficult Decisions

Farm families live through hope and optimism from one year to the next, but when things get tight, there’s often a rise in anxiety and depression, experts said.

University of Iowa research that tracked suicides and homicides among farmers and agriculture workers between 1992 and 2010 found that they had a higher rate of suicides than workers in other occupations.

Farm families often have held the same land for generations, and it means everything to them, said Michael Rosmann, a clinical psychologist and farmer in Harlan, Iowa, who serves the agricultural population.

When threatened with the loss of land, stressed farmers increase their workload, but sometimes the farmers become so overwhelmed they can’t sleep properly or make sound decisions. That’s when counseling helps them manage their behavior and their farming operations, Rosmann said.

“Any threat to the loss of the land, or the assets needed to farm, and farmers react by doubling down in their work ethic,” Rosmann said. “But they have learned how to take into account their behavioral well-being, so they don’t overdo it as much.”

About 55% of people who contact Rosmann are men, which shows they’re not as reluctant as they were even a decade ago when women were still more likely to seek behavioral health assistance, he said. He receives between four and 12 contacts a week.

Increasing awareness of mental health and emotional well-being in farm magazines and newspapers has helped. Community meetings involving businesspersons and farmers strategizing together also help curb social isolation and broaden options when making sound decisions, Rosmann said.

Flooded farmland
Nearly all of a family’s 2,800-acre farm flooded in Watson, Missouri, after intensive flooding in March along the Missouri River.
The Pew Charitable Trusts

Difficult decisions about selling land affect everyone in the family differently, and not always at the same time, said Charlie Griffin, a retired professor with the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, and former member of the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force in Kansas. The loss of land can affect families over two to three generations and often results in an increase in stress and family conflict, including marital difficulties, Griffin said.

Both Rosmann and Griffin recommend a broad approach to supporting farmers that includes therapists, financial counselors, attorneys, farm management specialists, career specialists and faith-based providers.

Between 1985 and 1994, Griffin was a mental health counselor with a farm hotline called Farmers Assistance Counseling and Training Service, or FACTS, which ended when farm bill funding dedicated to addressing the 1980s farm crisis dried up, Griffin said.

He went on to participate in Agriwellness’ collaborative projects, directed by Rosmann across seven Midwestern states, which ended in 2014. Each state had a helpline that advised callers on legal and financial issues, disaster assistance and accessing free counseling services, while the program provided support groups for farmers and families.

“People need help,” Griffin said. “They are not going to pull through it by cowboying it through on their own without any other assistance.”

Federal Aid

Lawmakers acknowledged the need for mental health support in the 2018 farm bill, which President Donald Trump signed in December. The bill reauthorized the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which was first authorized in the 2008 farm bill, but was never funded and expired in 2012.

“Times were pretty good in farm country at the time the 2014 farm bill was written,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director with the National Farmers Union, which lists resources available to farmers on a Farm Crisis Center webpage. “To be frank, there just didn’t seem to be many folks paying attention to the program.”

The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network would provide mental health support for farmers via grants to state departments of agriculture, state cooperative extension services and nonprofits. They would develop stress assistance programs, including counseling, farm telephone helplines and websites, training for advocates, support groups, outreach services and activities, and when necessary, home delivery of assistance.

Rural and farm advocacy groups sent a letter to congressional appropriators March 25, weeks after the historic crest in the Missouri River, asking for the full $10 million in funding per year.

“I think there are a number of people across the state who are waiting for that funding to come down, so they’re equipped to hire people with expertise in behavioral health,” said Griffin of Kansas.

Farmers hadn’t started the year optimistic about government assistance. Many already were anxious about late passage of the farm bill in December, followed by a government shutdown that strained the USDA and other government agencies, according to advocates.

Now, the floods may have stripped many farmers’ land of the soil it needs to grow crops, which could take years to return to production. Some farmers have been storing grain for several years in anticipation of better prices, but floodwaters eroded their land and contaminated the grain. Neither USDA disaster programs nor insurance policies cover stored grain. Crop insurance may cover inputs, such as chemical and fertilizer, but it won’t provide additional income to support households.

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Floods will continue to happen, and states must figure out what to do.

“It’s going to spell the end for a lot of folks who don’t have the capability to ride it out until things get rosier,” said Joe Schroeder, a farmer advocate who speaks to distraught farmers through the Farm Aid hotline, which provides support services to farm families in crisis.

Even losing livestock, for some, can affect mental stability, said Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary of marketing and regulatory programs, at the Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Policy Summit at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 18. “It’s almost like losing family in many cases,” Ibach said.

Some families have spent decades building up a herd with marketable traits and genetics, said Cora Fox, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska.

Farmers can expect a gap before federal funds hit. Congress went on two-week recess until April 29 without passing a disaster relief bill. Nebraska and Iowa have reported billion-dollar losses.

Rural Response

Nebraska, among the hardest-hit states, is preparing to boost support of farmers’ emotional and behavioral health after the historic floods.

The Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, the longest continuously serving farm crisis hotline in the country, provides no-cost vouchers for counseling services to farmers in need. Michelle Soll, who takes farmers’ desperate calls, has empathy: Her family’s 192-acre farm flooded too.

Even before the floods, the hotline was receiving record numbers of calls for counseling outreach and mental health therapy this year, according to organizers. Year-over-year program calls increased by nearly 90% when comparing January 2018 with January 2019, according to data provided by Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, a statewide ecumenical agency that provides the hotline alongside local partners.

Year-over-year program calls increased by nearly half when comparing February 2018 with February 2019, but dipped about 16% from March 2018 to March 2019, which organizers attributed to people taking care of their immediate needs.

“We are seeing a gradual increase, and we expect in the next few weeks we’ll have pretty close to 50% more calls than we’ve experienced in the last year or two,” said the Rev. Jerry Albright, the hotline’s administrator.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension also held a “Wellness in Tough Times” webinar April 23 for farmers and ranchers and their families. During the 30-minute webinar, attendees could ask questions privately through a chat box.

Extension agents are planning six “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress” trainings across Nebraska, said Susan Harris-Broomfield, a University of Nebraska Extension educator focused on rural health, wellness and safety. The trainings are geared toward helping agriculture business professionals, including those in health care and banking, learn about farmer stress, how it may manifest and where to access local resources.

Bank lenders need help, Harris-Broomfield said. Many must tell farmers and ranchers they may not qualify for loans that sustain their operations. During the first training, prior to the flooding, a USDA county executive director said she had a farmer crying in her office because of financial challenges and she didn’t know how to respond, Harris-Broomfield said.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that will happen more due to the stress of the flood,” Harris-Broomfield said.

During the interactive sessions, participants will practice having awkward conversations, Harris-Broomfield said. Oftentimes people are confident meeting neighbors’ physical needs, but are afraid to ask uncomfortable questions, such as whether people are considering suicide.

“The most important thing is to not ignore someone who you think is experiencing extreme stress,” Harris-Broomfield said. “Practice active listening without judgment. There may be some awkward conversations, but this is an awkward time. Things are going to be tough and we just have to roll with it.”

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Flooding Devastates Nebraska

Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska has been in contact with our outreach workers at the Rural Response Hotline in Bancroft, NE. They are still assessing the immediate needs. However, past efforts have required emergency generators, fence repair and rebuilding, farm lane rebuilding, emergency shelter and food, as well as feed and medication for livestock. Many farmers have reported that their livestock is isolated and a number of farmers and ranchers have reported the death of livestock from the preceding blizzard and the later flooding.

I have added a donation page to our website for a designated disaster emergency fund. Please publicize this in your congregations. The website is www.imneb.org and click on Support Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska.

I will continue to update you on the areas affected and the needs that are most urgent.

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Prayer for Creation (IPL)

Dear Jerry,

We packed the dry bags into the blue, tandem kayak and set off paddling the three miles to our remote campsite. It was my first time camping on Maryland’s eastern shore, and the day could not have been more beautiful.

That evening the sunset was filled with pinks and oranges, followed by a magnificent starry sky with Mars reflected on the water. I was awestruck.

Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book God in Search of Man, writes, “Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.”

In our work together it is good to be reminded of these moments of awe and wonder.

This part of Maryland is among some of the most threatened by climate change, and in fact, the island where we camped used to be a part of the mainland before the waters rose all around it. It is a reminder that the impacts of climate change are already here and already being felt by communities.

But it’s also a reminder that we sense in small things, and small actions, the beginning of infinite significance. Tomorrow, September 1, is the World Day of Prayer for Creation. Begun in 1989 by Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I for the Orthodox Church, this day has been embraced by other major Christian traditions around the world.

Praying for the earth and all of its inhabitants may feel like a small thing, but for people of faith, it is the beginning of something that is of infinite significance. It is the beginning of re-remembering the sacred connection between us as humans, and God’s good Creation.

I invite you to take time tomorrow to get out into nature, to pray for Creation with others around the world, and to invite your friends to become part of the faith climate action movement.

Blessings,

 

Rev. Susan Hendershot

President

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Zambia Project

Pastoral Care When the Cancer Battle is Lost

For a pastor, it can be challenging to know how to talk to your people about another church member who has died — or is dying — from cancer.

It’s always tricky to find the right balance. Some of those in your congregation may see you as a shepherd, and they’re looking at you for cues or coaching on how to respond to the situation. Others may view you as an expert in theological matters — gathering around you for insights like hungry birds with beaks wide open. And perhaps a few won’t be satisfied with anything you have to say and every opinion you express will trigger a debate.

But whether you’re speaking from the pulpit or over a quiet table at your favorite coffee shop, the simple approach may be best: The only thing you know is that God is always faithful.

We all must obviously work through the temptation of blaming God for things that happen, especially when He warned us they would happen. Just because someone’s life ended in a way that we are not satisfied with, this does not mean that we understand or know all the details. Nor does it mean that God is satisfied with the outcome. And while the goal is not to give in and concede to cancer, if a battle is lost, we must realize that God did not fail us.

We know that God delights in our health and long life. But even in death, He still cares for us. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” Even though He knows the hour, God Himself is moved when His people die in this world. It touches Him. There are so many things that we do not know concerning sickness, healing and death. But we do know that God is faithful, and He is good.

Even if we believe someone died too young, too early or in the wrong way, we can be confident God still receives His child with open arms. We may have questions about why God did not heal the person. But when we speak to the members of our church family, answering this question is less important than trusting God and recognizing Him as faithful, loving and good. Your congregation would be well served by you avoiding trying to provide any definitive reason for that person’s transition, and certainly never suggest that the fight was lost because of ones lack of faith!

Speak of Sadness

Our role is to be there for the living — to help, to comfort and to support them in their time of sorrow. Let them know that sorrow in and of itself is natural — even when the loved one was a believer and even when God is not viewed as responsible for the loss.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that there is “a time to mourn.” Trying to deny, suppress or refuse this time of mourning is neither healthy nor biblical. God has designed us with the capacity to experience tremendous emotions, and sometimes these emotions are so powerful they must be expressed outwardly. To contain them is not physically or spiritually healthy. Jesus wept. He was sorrowful on multiple occasions during the few years He walked on earth.

As pastors, our role is not to quench or end the mourning process — we are there to accompany, support and comfort our people through it. We may help lessen the depth of the grief, but we should realize that it is natural to grieve and even Godlike to grieve — because God in the Person of Jesus grieved.

We are still agents of hope, even if we, too, are mourning and sorrowful. We grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope — knowing that in Christ there is even victory over the grave. (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Speak of Reality

It’s a fallen world we live in. The presence of sin on the earth has tainted everything — our bodies, our food, our living conditions, our lifestyle decisions.

Even when we do everything right in life — making good decisions, living well, eating well and pursuing the lifestyle that God calls us to — our bodies will eventually wear out and die.

So we must face reality. Cancer is sometimes fatal. Despite great efforts, courage and prayer, many have died from this terrible disease. This is part of the reason cancer has had such a strong stigma in the past. It’s important to remember that according to the National Cancer Institute the overall cancer death rate has declined by 25% since 1990. And while we never look for death, never accept defeat, and never yield in faith, some of those we minister to may not get better.

We may be sad. It can be comforting if we grieve with those who have lost someone. But we should also stay focused, and help those who are hurting. We must not lose hope, or let our faith be shaken, even in our tears.

Speak of Hope

Even when a journey ends with loss, there is still room for hope and faith. God is on His throne and nothing can separate us from His love. When we are absent from the body, Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:8, we will be “at home with the Lord.

If the person who died was a believer — or seemed likely to have been — then we can rejoice in the fact that the struggle here is over, and God is welcoming one of His children with open arms. If we have no reason to believe the individual knew Christ, we can always have hope that he or she received Him before the end. We should also have hope that God will use a person’s life and legacy to impact the lives of those of us who remain.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, 
then the saying that is written will come true: 

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
 Where, O death, is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15:54-56

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Learn More About Our Journey of Hope

This post is from “Our Journey of Hope” a newsletter from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America

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