Third generation cattle and horse rancher on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation
While perusing the USDA Farm Service Agency policy vault, I stumbled across a Field Office Employee Training Notice explaining to staff how to identify signs of stress and warning signs of potential suicide.
I've been a producer my entire adult life. Before that, I grew up on a cattle ranch during the farm financial crisis of the '80s, in a time when I was too young to really grasp what was going on. Yet, there was always a foreboding sense that something didn't fit. It wasn't until I was much older, and a victim myself of the same plight they suffered, that my parents would share parts of their story that started to make it all make sense.
The day a 9-year old me and Dad were picking through the junk pile for a replacement tire? It turns out that was our best option for having a tire on the pickup that could get us to town for groceries.
Paid for with Dad's word to Bob and Faye Butler of Butler's Jack and Jill, that he'd be good for it eventually. Dad was as good as his word, but I can't imagine how the Old Man kept his sanity knowing he had 8 people to find a way to feed.
My resourcefulness as a pre-teen, mowing hay an entire summer without the ability to raise the mower bar with hydraulics because the cylinder went bad?
It turns out my resourcefulness was our necessity, we had only enough money to keep gas in the tractor, and couldn't afford non-essential repair.
I'm 50 now, and I'll be damned if I'm not encouraging my kids to get into this business. Maybe this is what drives me to ask the following question of you all:
Why is suicide prevention a part of our federal farm policy?
Is it because of Mother Nature, and her unpredictable nature? No, I'd wager no producer has ever said, "Son, stay out of this business because no one can precisely predict the weather!"
Nor has a producer ever uttered, "My girl, I just can't handle the fact that these cows won't go where I want them to!! Don't you ever pick this life!"
Or "I can't keep these Godforsaken rows of corn straight, don't make the same mistakes I have, stay out of this life!!"
The answer is plain. We have a system of Ag Finance centered around mitigating risk for "lenders" and piling it on the backs of producers creating in some cases more stress than they can bear. The system must change if we want a different result.
Until then, let's defer all principal payments for farmers and ranchers for 2020 and 2021. The interest will still be paid at the agreed-upon rate and the security is maintained.
Producers can then use their production income for these two years to reposition themselves to better feed us all in the evolving global economy, help the Butler's Jack and Jills in our rural communities, and hopefully hold on until a more thoughtful approach than suicide prevention is developed in the next Farm Bill.
Let's start to talk about the solutions now.
Zach Ducheneaux is the Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council, a national non-profit whose membership is made up of all federally recognized tribes. Also a 3rd generation cattle and horse rancher on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, he understands the challenges producers face and works to raise awareness of agriculture as an economic development tool through system changing approaches to Ag Finance.