Farmers in eastern North Carolina are facing a crisis of compounding issues that are threatening their mental health and that of their families.

There’s the increased competition from foreign trade because other countries are able to produce crops for much less and the damaging recent international agricultural tariffs. These issues are juxtaposed with domestic input costs rising dramatically over the last two decades while the price that farmers receive for their products continues to shrink.

Then there’s the recent surge of “nuisance lawsuits” targeting North Carolina hog farmers and the back-to-back years of major hurricanes that hit the state, followed by a very wet winter and an extremely dry spring this year.

These issues add to the daily mental, physical and emotional stress experienced by the region’s farmers, many of whom are struggling to keep operational the farms that have been in their families for generations.

“It’s almost like banging your head against a brick wall. You do everything you can to get your entire business lined up and set right, and then one thing comes across and you can lose everything. You’re on the verge of losing what has been in the family for multiple generations,” said Archie Griffin, a third-generation farmer in Washington, North Carolina. “No one wants to have that burden fall on their shoulders. You don’t want to be the person who lets the family down.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last year that a coding error prompted it to retract its widely circulated 2012 report that determined the farming, fishing and forestry occupational group had the nation’s highest suicide rate that year at 84.5 suicides per 100,000.

However, the National Farmers Union (NFU) argued that the revised report still revealed the suicide rate for male “farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers” was double that of the general population in 2012. And furthermore, if that group were considered a major group instead of a management subgroup, they would “rank first and third in suicides in 2012 and 2015, respectively.”

The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute – a partnership between East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University – is working to target farm stress and pair farmers with resources to help them tackle issues of anxiety or depression.

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Originally published June 21, 2019.