I have family that farms in Iowa and I also worked in the agriculture industry there for a while after leaving the military. One thing that increases the stress on the farmers is the way they avoid income taxes at all costs so they rarely save any of the profits from good years to help them float during the bad years. This is all anecdotal but I have personally talked with several farmers that would rather buy new equipment they say do not even need than pay the taxes to take the money as income. This mindset causes them to experience a huge amount of stress every season. The farmers would talk about struggling, but have a brand new semi-tractor sitting in a barn unused 10 months out of the year.
Many 'family farms' even in the dainty UK are multi-million $ businesses, run by people who know how to shear sheep and bunt hurdles and wurzels. They complain about the effect of market prices, and the worry they create, but they are taking on these risks unhedged (and farmers being unhedged makes me giggle). Similar size businesses would we hedging their FX risk through their local bank with simple FX forwards. Farmers could directly hedge corn prices (commodities futures), and indirectly hedge fertilizer and diesel prices with oil futures. They could virtually remove market risk and concentrate on the risk inherent in the business (weather, disease etc)
I would offer this advice, but they are all so clever you can't tell them anything. They are a very insular bunch in general and their tie to their land is a bit more than the blood sweat and tears mentioned below, its a bit more like being the Lord of their Manor. I agree with the top post, they would happily be less profitable to save tax. It is intriguing (but not surprising to me) that many UK farmers voted to leave the EU, despite it being their main source of unearned income and the main market for their goods, and despite the National Farmers Union coming out in favor of remaining. I have noticed the young generation of farmers be openly aggressive towards foreign people (not that they actually meet any). It is kind of sad, but when they all lose their farms after Brexit they will still blame the French for it.
Disclosure: worked a lot with farmers, and have some in the family
There was an article on HN not long ago  about professionals leaving their jobs in record numbers to pursue life as a farmer, producing and living off the land.
How do we reconcile on the one hand farmers by trade leaving and wannabe farmers wanting to join a farm life?
Local farm services guy had this to say: "Used to buy truckloads of fertilizer, then the coop would buy train car loads and undercut us. So we bought a train car - they bought a train. We bought a train - they bought a barge. The margins are disappearing entirely"
Almost everybody is being squeezed out by 'economies of scale'. And its going to get worse, when we start making simple foodstuffs electrically (starch, sugar, protein). Then we'll see the entire farm industry turned upside down.
There are few places where market forces work as well as in farming. Which is surprising considering the distortions imposed by subsidies. Still, I think this is a case where automation will eliminate many if not all of their jobs and the market is doing a good job at signaling that they probably need to change professions. This especially rang true when they mentioned how the price of a wheat bushel appeared to below production costs. It’s really pains me to see these men having to deal with the dark side of creative distruction but I also don’t know what’s the best way to help them reinvent themselves for the future.
I imagine that farmers' high rate of gun ownership and social isolation are the big factors. It's pretty well documented that people with guns are more likely to successfully take their lives when compared to suicidal people who do not have guns. Couple that with the fact that there is not really a support system or general awareness of this issue and you have a problem. Veterans are also likely to own guns, but at least they have the VA and other organizations that are readily available to help in the event of emotional or psychological issues. Farmers do not have an equivalent organization.
Because their way of life is over. You can't be a small farmer any more-farming unfortunately scales really well so bigger concerns run the show now. They've got nothing left-they're up to their ears in debt, their way of life is gone, so whats left to do?
I don't want to offend anyone, but could a high rate of suicides on farms have anything to do with the heavy use of pesticides in these places (which operate essentially as nerve agents, so it would not be surprising if they caused higher than normal rates of depression, hoarding, etc). Not trolling, just curious.
One question I would ask: Has the average age of a farmer gone up substantially in the last couple of decades? This alone could be a major contributing factor, because the male suicide rate (at least in the U.S.) goes up with age.
Unfortunately technology is likely going to exacerbate this problem more than it helps. There will Be platforms like Farmers Buisiness Network of FarmLead, that will help smaller farms access better information and price but but that will quickly be arbitraged away and then you’re left with economies of scale.
The amazing thing is the median age of farmers in the USA is ~56. In the next ten years over half are retire-able. Who is going to take over? Corporations or the current immigrant workers? Its a huge change for most of the country.
The Guardian article on Dec 6, 2017 quotes the stat from Newsweek which has a date of July 13, 2016 quoting a 2014 study showing the number at 15.2 per 100,000. The other cited source is a CDC Study from 2016 with data up until 2012 that shows Farmers, Foresters, and Fishermen have the highest suicide rates of any profession in the US. Strangely, the CDC study puts the number at 84.5 per 100,000.
I would really like to see a bit more rigor and comparison so I know what is really going on.
My educated guess (I was a sysadmin in a major north Texas age company) is the hidden nature of the mergers, acquisitions, and interdependency the huge ag firms and bankers have fostered on what used to be family farms, and don't be fooled, true family farms are rarer and rarer these days.
I don't know when it changed so much from my great grandparents days, but when I see farmers with brand new ford raptors and 500k tractors less than a few years old it seems to fly in the face of what my grandparents described as life on a farm.
Gee, I wonder why - small to medium farmers make just enough to get subsidized into almost not backsliding into debt and oblivion.
Then a bad season hits, thanks to climate change. Cant afford food, much less taxes, maybe a mortgage.
Aaaaaaand now we're back to mislabelled sharecropping - or better yet, bottom-dollar buyouts from factory farms that destroy the land, the jobs, and probably your colon, dear reader. Another dust bowl, coming soon!
I wonder how much prior boom times have an impact on farmers because prices on the crops have just languished for years now.
2008 had very aggressive price appreciation in corn & beans. Same can be said for late 2010, all 2011, all 2012, & early 2013. After that prices have absolutely fallen off a cliff & continue to hover near those lows every single day.
I suspect it's difficult to be in the "risk management" business which farmers are by being "long" the crop in the ground & having no price appreciation for years. Meanwhile all other risk assets continue to explode higher. At some point it probably becomes challenging to find a light at the end of the tunnel. Now with rising interest rates the cost of capital is higher & likely going to accelerate higher.
Higher operating costs (wages & debt service) & continually deperessed prices of the product you produce. I don't have a solution for any of this but by putting myself in those shoes it sure does seem horrible.
Maybe they have been faced with the prospect of moving to a city and working in an office.
The amount of acreage it takes to be profitable goes up every year, and as a result people get squeezed out of the business. That's going to be tough on a guy in his fifties who never wanted to be anything but a farmer.
How does this suicide rate compare to small business owners overall? It seems that owning a farm is the suicide risk. Not working on one.
I'll guess: depression, isolation, uncertainty, one paycheck a year (when the harvest comes in), physical danger and health risks.
It's not only America. Same story in France (as just one example). More interestingly there was a documentary about the 40s in France, and a farmer interviewed said the exact same things as a farmer today about the struggle of surviving in this "field"... nothing's changed.
The same thing happens in Canada.
Farming is irreplaceable as of now. I don't want it to be replaceable, do you?.
Same thing happens in Switzerland.
new topic but I am noticing a new trend where rich people have started owning farm land. Not sure why but I hope it is not contributing to this problem in a weird way.
> but the most extreme anti-government/anti-tax ideologies. It's the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
That sadly isn't an extreme ideologies. Every wonder why Republicans are all for tax cuts? Its the simple idea that if the Government has less money it must be smaller. So lower the taxes of the rich and corporations = smaller government. This is why we have problems all the time with tax talks. Both sides talk with different worldviews. You might say "Trickle Down Economics Doesn't Work," they simply don't care, "There is nothing that Government does well." "Government is the problem" - Ronald Reagan 1981 Inauguration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1sGN6J9Tgs
Though I love throwing Reagan into the face of today's "Conservatives" they really would HATE Reagan today and his liberal ways.
Mild shock that the conclusion isn't "Monsanto"