OMAHA, NE (DTN)--"Into each life some rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary."
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow's words hold true, not in regards to the actual precipitation that has fallen in drought-stricken areas of the United States, but in regard to the trials and tribulations that drought has churned up for farm and ranch families.
DTN On Air host Bryce Anderson talked Sept. 18 with Dr. Kathy Bosch, a family life specialist with the University of Nebraska Extension Center in Scottsbluff, NE, about the effects drought is having on farm families outside of their pocketbooks.
A recent satellite conference on the subject lured viewers from many states--not only Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa whose colleges helped sponsor the program--but also from North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, Michigan, Montana, West Virginia, Colorado and more. Bosch said 27 states in the U.S. are experiencing severe drought conditions and there is "widespread concern" about its effect on rural economics and rural families.
"Drought has added additional stress to farm couples," Bosch said. "When endless effort produces little income, tensions run high."
Many farm couples are worrying about whether they can stay on the farm or ranch. And even rural businesses are affected.
The situation now seems "more severe" than in the 1980s, Bosch said.
"More families are having to ask the question, 'Can we or can we not stay in it?' That's pretty difficult for many," she said.
Sometimes that's a hard question to answer because not everybody wants to answer it the same way.
"Partners may differ in their feelings of loyalty to the farm or ranch," Bosch said. One may be ready to quit while the other won't quit until death. "For some, the financial lenders make that decision for them," Bosch said.
All the stress of a drought-induced financial crisis can make a bad situation worse or even push a not-bad relationship into the bad category.
"If the tendency for abuse exists," Bosch said, "it tends to escalate."
Strong families--those that can survive tough times such as these--share some common traits, Bosch said. They pull together during crises, rather than apart. They don't run away from the problem. They are willing to talk about the situation and examine alternatives. They are willing to get help when they need it. And they know how to communicate effectively. The kids should be told some of what is going on, Bosch said. "They don't need to know all the details. But the kids know something is not right."
Most farmers turn first to family and friends for support during times like these, Bosch said. But when that support isn't enough they can turn to many agencies and groups willing to help. In Nebraska, they can turn to a Rural Response Hotline which in turn will refer them to agencies that can address their unique situations.
Bosch said the Panhandle mental health line is getting more calls and some have even been crisis calls from farmers or ranchers considering suicide. She expects the stress may even escalate in the late fall, winter and early next year.
"Every time we get rain, it does help," Bosch said. "However, this is such a long-term problem there are no quick fixes."
Bosch said although times are rocky, she sees "a great sense of hope" in the country and that farm families have "a lot of resilience.
"Farmers and ranchers--and rural people in general--were raised with a self-sufficiency attitude," she said. "We can handle things. We can fix things. We can work things through." Although that may be true in most cases, Bosch said, "I can't make it rain."
But, she added, we can do something about the way we respond to the stress of our situation. That's why it's important to seek help.
"When we tend to withdraw and try to fix everything ourselves is when we get into trouble," Bosch said. "Keep involved in your activities, be they school, church, civic or farm group related. Just keep doing whatever you enjoy doing," Bosch said.
Regarding the ability of farm families to cope, Bosch related the story of a Nebraska rancher who was still able to find something positive during a time of not knowing if he'll be able to afford to buy hay for his cow herd this winter.
"He and his son spent quite a bit of time roping and going to rodeos in the area this summer," she said. "And just a couple weeks ago, the son said to his dad; 'Dad, I've seen you more this summer than I have in a long time.' The reason was that the rancher wasn't busy all summer long putting up hay. That's not a good situation, but the relationship between father and son grew stronger during this time."
For more formal support, farmers can turn to their state departments of agriculture, a farm mediation service, rural help hotlines and mental health hotlines. In Nebraska, the Rural Response Hotline can be reached at 800-464-0258.
Bosch offered a final perspective--again from a western Nebraska farmer. The farmer recently related that a year ago his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. This year, the cancer is in remission. The farmer's comment was this--"My crops aren't very good, but my wife is better; and I'd much rather have my wife than my crops."