For many of America’s farmers and ranchers 2014 is starting with more uncertainties than we have experienced in quite a while.  How can agricultural producers cope? 

Much of the western half of the Corn Belt is experiencing carryover from the 2013 shortage of precipitation and other parts of the Midwest have too much moisture.  Drought conditions pervade much of the West.  The late spring this year is causing additional apprehension.  

Agricultural producers are studying weather predictions and whether El Nino will have an effect on their livelihoods this year.  The recently passed Farm Bill is not yet fully understood and additional administrative changes will likely occur. 

Lenders in some regions are raising the interest rate on money borrowed by farm operators.  There is plenty to worry about, but there also are behavioral methods of curtailing unnecessary worry.

Acquire sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions.  Farmers and ranchers can reduce this year’s uncertainties by acquiring as much information as needed to understand crop insurance provisions, selecting varieties of crops suited for drought and a shorter growing season, and considering whom to turn to for advice and emotional support if necessary.

It helps to have equipment, seeds and all inputs immediately ready when conditions are favorable for planting because it promotes a sense of security and control over the unexpected. 

Also have backup plans, such as what to do if pastures are too short to maintain all the cows, ewes or other grazing livestock during dry periods.  Perhaps prepare a list of animals to cull, such as those with poor feet or udders, bad dispositions, or other factors that affect productivity. 

Weaning progeny early and quickly selling the mothers cuts forage needs.  Their youngsters can be sold too or maintained more cheaply than their mothers until they are ready to sell.

The 2014 farm bill has few changes in crop insurance this year.  University of Illinois agricultural economist Dr. Gary Schnitkey said in a February 28 Ag Web article by Sara Schafer that the new farm bill keeps previous products and subsidy levels intact. 

Consistent with current lower grain prices the projected prices for major crops like corn and soybeans will be lower than for 2013 and resultant guaranteed prices will decrease, but the projected prices should not influence coverage level choices.  Schnitkey said the new Agricultural Risk Protection policy offers useful protections.  Farmers can explore options with their crop insurers.

Crop insurance is subsidized by the USDA and available for most crops, such as grains, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables.  The new farm bill also covers certain livestock losses during disasters, retroactive to 2012. 

Don’t overdo worrying.  Worrying is mostly self-defeating after the initial urge to take stock of what is alarming has worn off. 

Usually the initial alarm reaction and figuring out how to deal with the uncertainty lasts only a few days, and seldom longer than a month, before exhaustion sets in.  We can experience chronic anxiety, followed by depression, if worrying persists to the point that poor sleep occurs and our brains become depleted of serotonin and other beneficial body chemicals that give us a sense of well-being. 

Be ready to take breaks from problem-solving and relax periodically by undertaking activities that are unrelated to farming and the causes of worrying.  Short vacations, or longer ones if conditions allow, change our surroundings and allow time to engage in activities that restore us.  Vacations are an investments in ourselves.  Taking vacations is a behavior we control. 

Other behaviors we can undertake to renew perspective and serotonin production include the following:

  • Share the worry by talking with others involved in, and outside the agricultural operation, such as trusted family members, friends, and advisors.
  • Exercise actively to the point that sweating and heart rate increase enough to feel as if in a different phase, because then beneficial body chemicals usually have been produced.
  • Put yourself in a frame of mind to be open to accept whatever materializes.  This can be done by self-talk, prayer, or meditation to gain acceptance of what happens.  It takes discipline and habitual dedication to accept what God, or one’s concept of a higher power, allows.
  • Engage in practices that promote restoration.  These range from religious prayer and services at church, to Native American talking circles and sweats, to Buddhist meditation practices, yoga, or other activities that cultivate spiritual and emotional awareness.
  • Obtain comforting physical contact from spouses, family and pets that includes touching.  Physical stroking, like massage therapists provide, stimulates the release of beneficial chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, sometimes called happiness hormones.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a physician for anxiety-calming medication if behavioral solutions are insufficient.
  • And remember, somebody else has it worse.  

You’ve probably read some of this before, but our review of what we can do to deal with uncertain times, and to manage our behaviors is useful preparation.

Readers may contact Dr. Rosmann at