If you operate a farm or ranch you probably know what it is like to experience a drought.  You find yourself checking the western horizon more frequently than usual.  

You hope the little sliver of clouds at sundown brews into a substantial overnight thunderstorm that parks itself over your farm for a while.  Then as you feel a twinge of selfishness about your desires, your wishes expand for a soaking rain that waters all drought-stricken areas.

In Their Fathers’ God noted author Ole Rolvaag captured the distress that farm people dependent on their land felt when drought crushed their spirits. Along with drought came depression, family bickering and schemers who tried to capitalize on farmers’ hopes for rain.

It always seems like some portions of the world are at risk for famine and disaster as droughts mount.  On our continent vast portions of the West are abnormally dry for a second year in a row, as well as parts of the Southeastern U.S.  Some Midwestern crops are suffering this summer.

One of the most distressing features of a drought is that it doesn’t come on quickly and clearly, like a tornado or flood.  Its onset is slow and tiring.  It wears down our hopes gradually and it usually goes away slowly as well.

Drought is one of most insidious stressors agricultural people deal with.  What can we do to insulate ourselves from its deteriorating effects on our crops and livestock, our financial well being, and most importantly—our hope?

Fortunately, we have many USDA programs in place to mitigate the financial effects of drought.  Federal crop insurance coverage is available for most crops.  As long as producers comply with program requirements, they are eligible for benefits. 

There are fewer insurance-type programs available for livestock producers.  Relief programs such as the Livestock Disaster Forage Program can be useful.  I won’t go into the financial protections more because the most suited advice for each farm or ranch situation is available from the local Farm Service Agency, the local Extension office and insurers.

I will concentrate on emotional coping and say what I have learned about hope.

Droughts seldom materialize into declared disasters that involve the provision of Crisis Counseling Programs, such as I described in my July 2, 2012 column.  The drought may be declared an agricultural disaster, but no special behavioral health assistance accompanies agricultural disasters, unless there are accompanying fires or the natural disaster becomes so pervasive that people’s lives and homes become jeopardized.

Just as we can check with our local Farm Service Agency to learn about farm disaster provisions, we can check with our county Emergency Management Agency to learn if any Crisis Counseling assistance is available.  Every county is supposed to have an Emergency Management Agency and plan.

Usually news accounts on television, the radio and in newspapers will indicate availability of such assistance as well.  Crisis counseling, if available through declared federal or state programs, is free and confidential.

Often the best resources for emotional coping are within us and our neighbors.  Here are several rules of thumb about emotional coping and hope.

  • The best coping is done with others.  While farm people tend to keep our concerns to ourselves, it is healthier to talk about what bothers us the most with people we can trust and whose thoughts we respect.  It shares the burden. 
  • Talking, grieving and worrying together sometimes generate solutions.  A positive synergy develops when we toss out ideas and as others react and expand on the thoughts.  A creative atmosphere materializes, that in itself often provides ways to face the threats and generates hope. Remember, we can’t produce productive bodily chemicals that make us feel better if we are constantly down and dreary.  Talking, working, playing, praying and doing other activities together bring relief, even if temporary, so our bodies and minds can relax and recuperate a while. 
  • Hope is an elusive virtue and feeling.  We can’t always detect how much hope we have, except when we don’t have hope.  We get scared and fearful when we have nothing that brings us hope for something better. And what is it that can become better during a drought?  It is our sense of community.  We can endure when we cooperate together.

I will end by noting that the silver lining in the clouds along the western horizon is more than the moisture that lies within; it is also the bonds that people develop as we work together to ease anxieties caused by the drought.

– By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.

Email Dr. Rosmann at [email protected], or visit his website at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.  You can call him at his office in Harlan, Iowa at 712-235-6100.