Farmers and ranchers in America’s breadbasket and beyond are dealing with what looks to be one of the worst droughts on record.
Some aren’t handling things well, according to industry people I talked with for the story, “Drought Dampens Forage Prospects.”
“They’re struggling; everything is suffering,” said Barb Kinnan, Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association executive director, in mid-July.
“There’s kind of a hysteria going on,” added Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist. “People are cutting their corn because they know it isn’t going to amount to anything. And even though it would be better if they wait, they just want to get it out of sight and out of mind.”
Undersander’s spent much of the past month and more advising southern Wisconsin producers how they can get the most out of their drought-stressed forages. He’s counseling them on whether they should mow and bale or chop droughty corn. And warning them to sample crops in case nitrates are at dangerous levels.
Other specialists are helping producers investigate nitrate- and prussic-acid-related cattle deaths or issuing warnings of armyworm and grasshopper invasions – all symptoms of drought.
And the farmers themselves? They’re in the midst of the heat and dust, watching beautiful crops curl, brown and die, or hauling herds of promising livestock to market.
How can they keep themselves cool in such a stress-filled situation?
Crazy as it sounds, they should first think about other challenges they’ve already overcome, says James Marshall, Extension family life specialist with the University of Arkansas.
“Think about the past. You’ve survived some tough stuff before and you’ve come through it. So this current stressor probably isn’t going to be the end for you. It’s darn tough, no doubt about it. And there are no easy solutions. But be confident in yourself that you can find a way to work through this,” he says.
Anyone depressed or stressed has resources they can call on, says Marshall, an author of the Extension workbook, Managing Stress: Turning Challenges Into Blessings. But they may need to realize they have internal resources, such as faith, hope or optimism, and external resources that include supportive family members, friends, a faith community or a savings account.
Then they can dip into those resources as needed. “Don’t clam up. Don’t think, ‘I’ve got to bear this burden all on my own.’ There are others out there who are willing to help you shoulder and share that burden,” he says.
Those who are best at handling stress have a sense of optimism. Or, as Marshall puts it, they’re the kind of people who can make molehills out of mountains.
One such optimist: Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and a Nazi concentration camp survivor. “He said, ‘The Gestapo can take everything from me except my mind, except my hope and except my optimism.’ That’s one of the big reasons how and why he made it through that experience alive,” Marshall says.
“How does that relate to farmers who are losing crops and losing livestock? It’s hard. It stinks. And, honestly, they might not see any way out right now. But it’s up to them to determine whether this will ruin them or whether they can or will survive,” he says.
Just a few months ago, I was at the American Forage and Grassland Council’s annual tour in Rogers, AR. The bermudagrass looked beautiful, yet even then signs of drought were beginning to show. As we moved from one farm to the next, I couldn’t help noticing one grower who was zealously asking probing questions of our guides.
He was interested in all the tour offered and I had to meet him. As we enjoyed our barbecue, this Texan cheerfully told me that he usually markets 3,000 small squares each year. But last year’s drought dropped that down to 400-500 bales. I asked him how he had dealt with it so well.
“You just move on,” he said.
Just four words, but such power behind them. After 30 years of visiting farmers and ranchers from around the country – not discounting how desperate this situation is – I’m optimistic they’ll do just that.