In this file:
· Suicide Prevention Project Aims to Help Distressed Farmers
· Farmer Confidence Surges, is Highest Since Trade War Began
Suicide Prevention Project Aims to Help Distressed Farmers
New suicide prevention project intends to helps distressed farmers.
By David Wahlberg, Wisconsin State Journal
via U.S. News & World Report - Feb. 4, 2019
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Financial struggles led Leon Statz to sell his 50 dairy cows, causing the third-generation farmer to become depressed.
Then land next to his 200-acre farm near Loganville went up for sale — land his late father had said he should buy. Statz, who didn't have the money, became hopeless.
On Oct. 8, the day the adjacent property hit the market; Statz killed himself on his farm. He was 57.
"He said, 'How am I going to afford this?'" Brenda Statz, his wife of 34 years, told the Wisconsin State Journal. "He would panic about everything when it got to finances."
Wisconsin, which had a record 915 suicides in 2017, may be seeing a surge in suicides and suicidal thoughts among farmers, who are facing some of the worst economic challenges in years, experts say.
Exact numbers of suicides among farmers aren't available, and authorities say some deaths reported as farm accidents are actually suicides.
But calls to the Wisconsin Farm Center, which helps distressed farmers, were up last year, including a 33 percent increase in November and December compared to the same two months the previous year.
"We definitely have seen an increase in folks who are closer to being that desperate," said Angie Sullivan, supervisor of the farm center, part of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. "There's a major increase in their stress level."
The anguish is approaching that of the 1980s farm crisis, though interest rates today aren't as high, said Frank Friar, an economic specialist at the farm center who has done similar work for decades.
"There's so much volatility out there and so much unknown, it makes people think negative," Friar said.
John Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, an advocacy group in Madison, said he believes farmer suicides are up in Wisconsin from what he's heard.
Several years of low milk prices, the high cost of farm equipment, trade wars and other pressures contributed to the closure of 691 dairy farms in the state last year, the highest number of closures since 2011.
About 8,100 dairy farms remain, down from about 15,900 in 2004. The number of cows milked has remained steady at nearly 1.3 million, as many surviving farms have expanded.
In 2017, the Western District of Wisconsin had the highest number of Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies in the country, according to federal court data. The district that year had 28 bankruptcies, which represent only a fraction of total liquidations. Similar figures for 2018 are not yet available.
Though the forces working against farmers can seem insurmountable, a growing effort based in Dodgeville aims to help farmers cope with stress and avoid suicide.
Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program started a farmer suicide prevention project recently. The effort, funded by a $50,000 grant from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health's Wisconsin Partnership Program, was prompted by an increase in stories about suicides or suicidal thoughts among farmers, said Wally Orzechowski, executive director.
"Farmers tend to be pretty isolated and pretty independent," Orzechowski said. "When issues of mental health arise, they tend to just deal with it by themselves."
The project, which also involves the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Iowa County, plans to develop a mobile crisis service, conduct suicide prevention training sessions and establish networks to address suicide in a region stretching from Eau Claire to the state border with Dubuque, Iowa.
"The biggest part is to spread awareness, to say, 'It is OK to talk about it,'" said Sue Springer Judd, who runs the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Iowa County, which also serves six nearby counties.
Judd spoke to a group of farmers recently in Loganville, about 50 miles northwest of Madison. Her brother, Donald Springer, killed himself in 2012 at age 41, leaving behind three children ages 10 to 15. He owned a plumbing business and had a hobby farm next to his father's beef farm near Mineral Point.
"We had no idea he was suicidal; we just thought he was depressed," Judd told more than 40 farmers and others gathered at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Loganville to discuss farmer stress and suicide awareness…
Farmer Confidence Surges, is Highest Since Trade War Began
By Chuck Abbott, Successful Farming
Agriculture.com - 2/7/2019
With Trump tariff payments boosting Corn Belt farm revenue, farmer confidence shot to its highest level since last June, just before the trade war began against China, said the monthly Ag Economy Barometer published by Purdue University. Producers polled by Purdue said they expect ag exports to increase in the years ahead, an indirect sign they expect a beneficial resolution with China.
President Trump has set a March 1 deadline for a Sino-U.S. agreement or he will order a steep increase, to 25 percent, in tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products. China retaliated against previous U.S. tariffs by setting high duties on U.S. goods, including farm exports. The most prominent ag target is soybeans. China used to buy 1 in 3 bushels of the U.S. crop. Sales have plummeted, although China said it would buy 5 million tonnes of the oilseed this month while bilateral negotiations are held.
Purdue said its ag barometer, a gauge of farmer sentiment, climbed 16 points in January, its first survey of producers since the administration announced a second round of Trump tariff payments, officially the Market Facilitation Program, and since the enactment of the 2018 farm law. “Both of [them] appear to have helped boost farmer sentiment,” said Purdue.
As of Monday, the USDA had sent $6.41 billion in cash to producers, with an additional $1.2 billion in payments possible from claims that were being processed. Nearly 805,000 applications have been submitted. Feb. 14 is the deadline to apply. As expected, soybeans are the leading commodity for payments, and the top states for payments, Illinois and Iowa, are the premiere soybean producers.
For months, analysts have said Chinese leaders are well aware of the impact felt by farmers, a loyal Trump bloc, when it it buys or shuns U.S. soybeans.
“What’s going to happen with respect to trade negotiations continues to weigh heavily on U.S. farmers’ minds,” wrote Purdue economists James Mintert and Michael Langemeier in discussing the results of the survey. A larger portion of grain and livestock producers, 63 percent, believe ag exports will increase over the next five years than the 59 percent registered in the preceding poll. And more farmers believe they will be better off financially a year from now than did a month ago.
A large majority of U.S. growers are sticking with soybeans despite low market prices and lost sales due to the trade war, according to the Purdue survey. Two-thirds say they will plant the same amount of soybeans as in 2018, and 8 percent say they will plant more.
One-quarter say they will reduce their soybean plantings...