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·         COVID-19 Crisis Puts Pressure On Farmers’ Mental Health

·         Livestock producers brace for long haul through COVID pandemic



COVID-19 Crisis Puts Pressure On Farmers’ Mental Health


Natalie Krebs, Illinois Public Media/NRP/PBS

May 21, 2020


Studies have found the rates of mental illness and suicide are higher for farmers. They work long hours, have limited social contact and are at the mercy of factors such as weather. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is creating even greater challenges to their livelihood—and mental health.


Bill Tentinger has been a hog farmer in Iowa for 50 years. He’s been through droughts, market crashes and even other viral outbreaks. But he said this pandemic is even worse.


"We’ve experienced everything and I gotta tell you I have never seen anything like this in all the years that I've operated," he says Tentinger, who also is a member of the National Pork Board.


U.S. pork processing facilities have slowed due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the workforce. So, he’s been struggling with what to do with 2,500 excess pigs—with no end in sight.


"You know if we don't get more of a move to the next group of pigs moves up and that number is going to start increasing," he says.


Tentinger says cramming them into pens isn’t good for their health and not being able to sell them is taking a heavy toll on his farm. "Basically I'm using up my retirement plan to, you know, to continue to operate."


Many farmers like Tentinger are under an extreme amount of stress these days.


"We may see more concerns related to alcohol abuse concerns related to depression, some forms of trauma if they are euthanizing livestock, things like that," says David Brown, a behavioral health specialist with Iowa State University Extension. "We're also concerned about a potential spike in suicides."


The financial toll across the nation has already been devastating. There’s been a significant increase in family farms going bankrupt.


In the Midwest, more than 300 family farms filed for bankruptcy in the 12-month period that ended in March. That was a 42 percent jump.


Mental health advocates say this financial stress can quickly trickle down...


more, including links, audio [4:04 min.]



Livestock producers brace for long haul through COVID pandemic


By Rebecca Chaney, Midwest Messenger

via Lincoln Journal Star (NE) - May 22, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and business across the country, but those in agriculture continue their work of raising livestock, milking cows and planting crops. Still, the pandemic has many farmers and ranchers asking themselves if they can weather another storm and stay in business.


Many of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have not completely recovered from the 2019 bomb cyclone snow storm and the floods that followed. Now, coronavirus has had a hand in falling commodity prices and food chain disruptions that have led many to dump milk, give eggs away and euthanize animals because processing plants were closed.


As the Beef State, the cattle industry fuels Nebraska’s economy and supplies 18% of the nation’s beef, according to Craig Uden, an owner of Darr Feedlot near Cozad. He worries about recent price fluctuations cattle producers experienced after they dropped 20% in 45 days.


“When prices are that bad it creates a ripple effect in main stream Nebraska,” Uden said


It translates to higher prices at the grocery stores, and possibly food shortages. Analysts say the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a worldwide food shortage. The United Nations reported that globally 130 million could be faced with starvation by the end of the year. Food shortages are already showing up as empty grocery store shelves and limits on meat purchases in the U.S.


“Certain cuts of meat are not available because the workforce in packing plants is down and we are killing one third as many animals right now,” Uden said.


The Dawson County rancher sees the biggest challenge right now is making sure that they can get their market-ready cattle to the processing plants. Darr on average has 45,000 cattle in its feedlot.


“We use Tyson Foods in Lexington very heavily and have a good relationship with them,” Uden said. “We need them to stay open.”


Not being able to harvest fat cattle backs up the feeder cattle in the feedlots, Uden explained. From there, it backs up to younger feeder cattle still on pasture and the calves ranchers will have to sell this fall.


“Everyone will lose, the feeder loses, the stocker loses. It goes down the chain,” he said, adding that the industry will have to make adjustments and come up with new ideas so this doesn’t happen again.


Melody Benjamin, vice president of member services of the Nebraska Cattlemen, said if people are going to have food, then meat processing must continue. Her organization has been working to find both short and long-term solutions.


“Nebraska Cattlemen members continue to do what they do best, raise high quality cattle to become the beef you love,” Benjamin said. “While there is a disruption in the supply chain as processors deal with worker illness and changing from food service cuts to retail cuts, we will keep growing cattle.”


Dawson County farmers Paul and Shannon Peterson have all been feeling the pain of the coronavirus.


“I am afraid the pandemic has already affected prices for almost all commodities,” Shannon Peterson said. “When your business is to feed the world and your income comes from what you raise it is a major concern with all the commodities we raise.”


Paul Peterson is the fourth generation on his family’s 650 cow-calf operation. They also have their own feedlot and a small show pig operation. The family is concerned about the pandemic’s effect on all commodities since they grow corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Prices for all commodities have gone down, according to reports by the Nebraska Farm Bureau.


According to the American Farm Bureau, crop and livestock prices started falling as schools, universities, restaurants, bars and cafeterias shut their doors and were no longer buying milk, meat, fruits, vegetables and other food.


Dairy Farmers of America, a milk processing company, had Nebraska’s dairy farmers dumping 600 loads of milk a day, according to Joyce Racicky, Midwest Dairy Council Board member.


“We will be paying for it in the long run. We have a quota now based on March production,” she said.


The pork industry in nearby states has been devastated by the pandemic as meat processing plants close. Producers are left with nowhere to go with their hogs, and some have been forced to euthanize pigs to make room for the next groups...