Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Farmer Suicides Increase in Poor Economy

During the Reagan era family farms experienced a rapid demise with many farmers turning to suicide as a result of lost profits.  There may once again be a muted epidemic of suicide occurring with the downfall of the economy.

The recent suicide of a New York State dairy farmer has drawn attention to the potential recurrence of this issue.  The farmer, who raised 100 head of cattle, killed his 51 dairy cows he milked twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, before killing himself.  

Though Dean Pierson reportedly had ‘personal issues’ in recent months, his suicide raises multiple questions, including whether the farmer felt an elevated pressure to produce.  In early 2009, a Maine farmer hanged himself in his barn.  More recently, two Maine farmers–one an organic dairy farmer–committed suicide; both shot and killed themselves.

In February of 2009 the price of milk dropped below $12 per 100 pounds for the first time since the 1970s.  On average, it costs around $17 to produce 100 pounds of milk.  Government subsidies have increased the price for 100 pounds to above $16; however, the costs of production are still high.  

Dairy farms in the United States produce 21 billion gallons of milk per year, keeping dairy prices low due to excess production. The plummeting economies in the agriculture and dairy industries are a major contributing factor to the loss and misfortunes that can lead to suicide.

Suicide rates are augmented among farmers and also a global plague as Australia, India and Ghana report heightened instances of farmer suicide.

The economic burden placed on dairy farmers struggling to make a profit leaves farmers challenged with sustaining what is oftentimes multi generational family legacy under a tremendous responsibility.  Some face significant debt with creditors.  

As consumer demand for certified organic and bovine synthetic growth hormone-free products increases due to a notion of greater food safety associated with these products, farmers are incurring debt to make expansions on farms or to produce these products.  Certified organic dairy products command nearly twice the price of conventional products, and as consumers choose to make economic decisions related to whether to buy organic or conventional dairy products, farmers are impacted.

Some farmers have chosen to begin producing raw milk, as there is a high premium associated with its sale, but raw milk sales are not legal in many states and food safety and legal issues are a major concern.  

AgriWellness, Inc. located in Iowa, encourages managed behavioral health services for underserved and at-risk populations caused by crisis in agricultural communities. According to AgriWellness, if you compare farmers to non-farmers, farmers have twice the national suicide rate compared with non-farmers.

For help 24 hours a day, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255.  The service is available to all.  You may call for yourself or for someone else.  All calls are confidential.

© Food Safety News
  • cheryl berenson

    Thank you for bringing this news to press. I am nurse and public health graduate student partnering with the Youth Suicide Prevention Program in Seattle, WA. A suicide at any age is terrible. The use of a firearm to commit suicide is rising and the most lethal of choices.

  • Mr. Rogers

    This is a tragedy. It is my opinion and that of thousands of others that this has happened because farmers have been abused for so many years by the system/s called regulation, government, and economy. Today I saw a bumper sticker that said, “How is your hope or change doing today?” Big business, corruption, and government has not helped the farmers in many ways. Instead they have tried to control them and do control them. Many do not have any hope left. Good food is more valuable than it is priced at now. Only industrialized foods that have been processed and with added ingredients made of substances that are not organic or natural, can be priced at costs that many but not all consumers are willing to bear. Real foods produced from sustainable farms, biodynamic farm systems are the foods that have to be and should be priced so that the farmers are getting their fair share. The way it goes now, farmers are forced to produce inferior foods with poor qualities just to survive. And they are controlled by big business, greed, and selfish government organizations.
    If companies like Whole Foods were really that good, then they would place a retail outlet in an area that is not so wealthy. Or at least try to figure it out, how to do that.
    Vote for politicians who really care about sustainable agriculture, the food supply, and anti big business and government corruption.
    This reply was written because the man who died did not deserve to die this way. He is a human being. He is respected as a farmer. He probably did not want to or mean to kill those cows otherwise he would not have taken his own life. And maybe this is a story like the Titanic. Is that really the way it happened? What are the reasons for this? Is there a cover-up here? Our condolences to the family of this man. And 51 cows. we are sure that many people are now and have been terribly upset with how they are being treated by those who think they are in “CONTROL.”
    Good foods need to be priced higher. A good milk or other dairy product of quality should be priced much higher. What do you get for a gallon of milk that costs $2.50, $3.00, $4.00, $5.00, or even more? You get a poor excuse for milk or dairy. You get low pricing, and abused farmers. You get consumers who are fooled or are just too ignorant or stupid about quality foods. And then, when the farmers try to produce quality foods and run a class operation with integrity; who puts a stop to this? Just watch the film, “FOOD, INC.” Read Michael Pollan, Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters. why do you think Oprah recently had on her show, Michael Pollan? Even though she had to cater to an audience mostly filled with or viewed by a public that is unknowing, unaware of the truth.
    This poor man and others like him were driven to the point to do this. What do you think is going on?

  • Charles N Rutledge

    As a Struggling Dairy Farmer: I think I know what Pierson was trying to say. He was calling for help, not just for himself but for all dairy farmers. I am sure that after all the protests and actions in the last 18 months, the government and the main stream media just do not get it. I am sure he thought that shooting the cows would make this a national story. I am shocked at how little coverage there is. I do not understand the government or the media.
    So, I ask you to take action to save small dairy farmers. Please take an hour to review these web sites, and if you can please join either or both of these organizations please do so:
    http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/
    http://www.realmilk.com/
    These sites will show you how to buy milk from the farmer, so that he can have the money to take care of his cows and his family.