Katelyn Weisbrod | June 27, 2017
The rate of suicide among farmers is drastically higher than any other occupation, according to a study done by University of Iowa researchers.
From 1992 to 2010, 230 American farmers committed suicide at an annual rate ranging from 0.36 per 100,000 to 0.92 per 100,000. Comparatively, no other occupation exceeded 0.19 suicides per 100,000 workers for any year during this same period.
Co-author of the study Corinne Peek-Asa, a professor in the UI College of Public Health, said in a UI press release that financial issues related to economic or weather conditions can contribute to the suicide rate, as well as other stressors like physical pain from labor, societal isolation, and inaccessible healthcare. Peek-Asa also said a farmer’s job is a large part of his or her identity, and he or she may take failure extremely personally.
“They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers,” Peek-Asa said in the release. “They can’t take care of their family; they feel like they have fewer and fewer options and can’t dig themselves out. Eventually, suicide becomes an option.”
The number of farmer suicides has significantly declined since the farming crisis of the 1980s, when grain trade with the Soviet Union halted and millions of farms went under. Over 1,000 farmers took their lives that decade.
Although the suicide rate has declined since the 1980s crisis, another agricultural disaster could be on the horizon. As the effects of climate change set in through increased temperatures and precipitation, farmers could soon face serious setbacks.
In a press release issued after President Trump announced his intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, “We cannot sustain a viable food system if climate change is left unchecked … Increasingly unpredictable and destructive weather [will] wreak havoc on family farm operations, future generations, and food prices and availability for years to come.”