Maria And Dad

Stress of farming hits home

Over exertion leads to heart trouble and a trip to the hospital.

My phone rang. It was Dad. And I could tell right away, something was wrong.

I had just finished baling hay and was heading home when he asked me to come back to the farm. He didn’t say what was wrong but I knew his heart was acting up again. He was flushed, his pulse was racing, and he was short of breath.

He took some nitroglycerin pills and we headed to the hospital in Springfield. In a couple of hours, his symptoms subsided and he spent two nights in the hospital. The diagnosis? Atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat. The cause? Over exertion.

Driving Dad to the ER is becoming second nature to me. He had quadruple bypass 22 years ago, and five stents since that first heart attack. This irregular heartbeat is an additional problem for which he has new medication.

A big role on the farm

He is almost 72 and plays a big role on our farm. I’ve taken over several management decisions, but we still look to him for big picture thinking, wisdom, and guidance. He doesn’t want to quit farming. He is one of those old school farmers who hates vacations. He loves to feed the cattle in the morning, and quite frankly I don’t want to feed them at 6 a.m. anyway.

Stress, depression, sleepless nights; all topics discussed in major farming magazines today. Talking about budgets and marketing is easier for me; it requires no feelings and is all business. Stress is one of those things that hits to the core and is uncomfortable to discuss. I don’t like to admit I’m stressed because I don’t want to appear weak.

I never knew how stressful farming could be until I started farming. You wake up one day and soybeans have dropped 40 cents. Every day the market tugs at your heart and you question if you’ve sold enough, too little, or at the right price. You are filled with relief when it rains and the crops come out of a drought. At the same time, you secretly don’t want great yields for everyone who plants the same crops as you do because that means prices will drop.

Worst possible scenarios

Stress weighs on relationships, morale, and health. Stress has bothered my dad’s health the most. He worries about the worst possible scenarios on the farm and tries to fix problems that haven’t happened yet. He says he is just being prepared for what’s to come, but I think that these potential problems in his head are causing more stress.

I, too, internalize stress. My stress doesn’t involve processes and procedures, but I do worry about being successful as the 6thgeneration in our family to farm. Every time my dad has a heart episode, I wonder if it’s something I’ve done, or something I’ve not done. My goal is to take over the farm, and I don’t want him to feel stress anymore.

What we can do about stress on the farm

I am currently navigating new waters, trying to lessen stress on my dad while also not simultaneously adding to my own stress. We have hired another part-time employee to relieve my dad of some physical work. We upgraded cattle handling equipment so it takes fewer people to work the cattle.

We continually streamline processes regarding chemical and fertilizer applications.

In my personal life, I’ve said “no” when asked to be on more boards or committees. I wish I had more time to be a part of agricultural organizations, but I have to say no if these organizations distract me from managing our business. I spent a few years not having any hobbies, but recently discovered that bass fishing is a huge stress-reducer.

Farming is an awesome life and career, but a person must manage it wisely. I love farming, working in the field, and managing the business with my dad. He won’t live forever, but the reality is that none of us will. We need to hire help, work fewer hours, and spend time with the people we love.

It took a trip to the ER to teach me that lesson.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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