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What do we do when our neighbor calls and tells us ‘it’s over’?

Somula Schwoeppe for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 December 2018

Recently, a friend sat down beside me at dinner and asked, “What do you do when someone calls you and asks about this crisis we are going through? What do you say when one of your neighbors calls you and tells you it’s over – they’re selling out? How do you help someone else when you’re unsure yourself?”

This conversation was not unexpected. Many people have been on the sending and the receiving end of such calls, myself included.



The important thing to do is: Listen. Some people think before they talk, and some people need to talk it out as they think. Seek out a source of support, find a sounding board, create a sense of safety and trust to allow the exchange of thoughts and ideas between those involved in the conversation.

The one thing we can be sure about right now is the rapid state of change in the dairy industry. Our sense of safety has been violated, and we are on uncertain ground. Change has happened that is possibly a complete metamorphosis or transformation from one form to a completely different one.

Low prices and lost markets demand adaptation for survival. It is almost as if those of us in the dairy community have experienced the Titanic disaster. Some, with good markets, strong cooperatives and low debt load, are the lucky ones safe in the lifeboats. Others may be left only with the hope they are strong swimmers with good life jackets.

Historic change has taken place, and with it has come terrible pain and incredible stress. Agriculture is at the center of our hearts. Dairy farming is a large part of our families’ histories, and it is our hope dairy is also a part of our futures.

When we see our children working together with our parents on our farms, it brings a sense of pride and also a sense of great responsibility. A farm is a legacy, and it is our responsibility to love and care for our land and nurture our animals so we are able to pass our farming business on to the next generation.


This ethic of care focuses on the importance of recognizing and meeting the needs of those we are responsible for. It is this sense of responsibility to provide for others that drives us to do what we do.

The ‘agrarian imperative’

Psychologist and farmer Mike Rosman, Ph.D., calls this drive the “agrarian imperative,” identifying it as a basic human instinct. Sometimes people joke and say, “Dairy farming is in our blood.” They are right.

Rosman states farming is in our genes, and most people who choose to be farmers or ranchers do so because of that agrarian imperative. It is what drives us to stay up all night with a first-calf heifer, run the combine until sun-up or mow hay all night and then start the morning feeding and continue on with the day’s chores.

It is what is in our hearts and what drives us to exhilaration – as well as to exhaustion. The agrarian imperative is also associated with stress when our efforts are not successful.

As farmers, we are responsible for a lot – and in control of little. We work hard to produce a wholesome, nutrient-dense, quality product, and we are told what we are going to be paid for putting our hearts and souls into our work and into our farms. Agriculture is a challenging industry where you get to wear many different hats and make difficult decisions each day. You learn patience, perseverance and appreciation for all our beautiful world has to offer us.

However, when we are faced with continued low prices, loss of incentives or markets, our mental strength is challenged. Those hard-learned values of patience, perseverance and appreciation are all put to the test. Farming can be a punishing occupation that breaks our finances, our bodies, our hearts and sometimes our minds.


When we lose our sense of control and feel we have lost our safety and our security, tensions build up and anxiety takes hold, sometimes overpowering our thought processes.

This is the danger zone. Farming is physically demanding and dangerous enough without adding stress and mental fatigue to the scenario. When you feel yourself approaching this point, reach out to a friend. Make that call. Get help. Talk to someone. Talk to your spouse, your partner, your best friend or, if you are lucky and still have them, your parents – or your minister, your DHIA tester, your nutritionist or your veterinarian.

Many of these people have been entrusted to advise you about your farm decisions; reach out to them to listen to your concerns. If you are uncomfortable talking to someone close to you, then call a stranger who understands the responsibilities and stressful demands farming sometimes requires of us.

On an airplane, you are instructed to place your oxygen mask on yourself first before helping someone else. You cannot help someone else if you cannot function yourself. There are several programs scheduled this winter designed to help us deal with stress and overcome the challenges we are facing. Contact your county extension office for more information and attend one. Better yet, call a friend and invite them to come along.

A call to action

This article is a call to action for our dairy community to come together and make moves that will positively impact the health and well-being of others. In future articles, we’ll share advice from leading experts and identify conferences, webinars and resources that might help you address farm stress. An extensive list of resources will be updated regularly on the Progressive Dairyman website.  end mark

Somula Schwoeppe
  • Somula Schwoeppe

  • Dairy Producer and Freelance Writer
  • Huntingburg, Indiana