The last few years have not been particularly kind to farmers in America. They rise with the sun and work their farms until long after sunset. They grow our food. They raise cows to give us milk, and steers for our hamburgers and steaks, and pigs for our ham and bacon, and chickens for eggs and meat. They raise the soy and the corn that we depend on for food, and for animal feed and fuel. They are, in fact, the providers of the food that feeds the nation, and yet they are among the least appreciated of our population. And they are dying from neglect.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate among farmers is higher than for any other occupation, and they appear to be higher in the MidWest than elsewhere in the country.
Attempts by lawmakers to address the issue through the farm bill are lacking in urgency and in the kind of assistance the farmers most need.
In 2008, Congress created a program in a farm bill that was intended to address farmer suicides, but then, in their infinite wisdom (or lack thereof), they chose not to fund it.
In the 2008 legislation, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network program would have created a national crisis hotline for farmers, as well as state and regional counseling services. It was modeled after “Sowing Seeds of Hope,” a program that actually worked, and reduced farmer suicide rates in seven Midwestern states, but it ended in 2014. Had it been funded, the 2008 federal program would have cost $18 million annually. With all the money that Congress wastes on senseless projects every year, the fact that they chose not to fund this one is nothing less than criminal.
Over the last few years, Trump has focused a big part of his agenda around trade deals with China, and the farmers supported him, because the deal would improve their condition and the talks were promising. He told the farmers that he had their back and that he would get the best deal possible. And he did.
President Trump negotiated a $50 billion commitment from the Chinese for American agriculture, including the purchase of soy and corn and pork. He was jubilant and it was good news for our farmers. But they didn’t count on the perfidy of the Chinese or the killing coronavirus that was raging throughout China since early December, but which they hid from him until the deal was signed on January 15, 2020.
By the end of January, the joy was over, and the realization that the Chinese would – and could not – not keep their end of the deal became clear. The hope for a renewal of American farming died aborning.
Farmers in the Midwest are born into farming families, and today they face losing their farms, and letting down what they believe is their family legacy and the dreams of their parents and their parents. With their dreams turning to dust, for some the only escape is suicide.
This is a problem that we must fix. There is much more to say on this crisis in the coming weeks and months, and I will be discussing it in more detail on the Freedman Report. This is a subject which cannot be ignored.
The future of the farmers in the Midwest today is uncertain and their view of the future is glum. If we lose our farmers, we will also lose our food supply, and America will lose much more – a fundamental piece of our heritage.