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.