Sharing her story and that of her late husband, Minnesota grain farmer Theresia Gillie addressed the topic of Stress on the Family Farm Dec. 3 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Norfolk.
Gillie recounted diminished harvests in 2015 and 2016, when the couple lost $500,000 at their farm in Hallock, Minn. Faced with mounting financial losses and the prospect of losing the farm his family had operated since 1899, Keith Gillie took his own life on April 1, 2017.
With farmers nationwide facing many of the same issues, Gillie reminded her audience that many factors can cause stress on the farm. Most, like depressed economies, crashed markets and harsh weather, are outside anyone’s control.
“Whatever is going on at your farm is not your fault,” Gillie emphasized. “You are doing the best you can with the situation you have at hand.”
The Kittson County, Minn., commissioner is state director and past president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. She continues to farm 950 acres of her family’s farm with neighbors.
She advised producers to stop comparing the farms they’ve inherited to the ones run by previous generations of their families. With advanced equipment, increased land value and evolving crop genetics, she noted, modern farming is inherently different.
There is, she said, “no dishonor in quitting,” and she further implored farmers to put their families before their businesses.
“I want you to go home, I want you to hug your kids and kiss your spouse, because if I ask you what is the most important thing in your life, that’s what you’re going to tell me,” she said. “That family farm means a lot to a lot of us, but your family is more important. I do not want anyone in this room or across this nation to do what Keith did to me and my son.”
Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, also spoke at the Farm Bureau event, sharing information about the Farmer Stress Task Force, a VDACS initiative launched this past spring. The task force’s goal is to raise awareness of mental health issues within agricultural professions and to help provide access to mental health resources.