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Finding Solutions on the Farm Even in Tough Times
Ohio Ag Connection - 08/22/2019

In talking to farmers across the Midwest, Jolene Brown, a professional speaker and family business consultant, offers some unexpected advice to those overwhelmed by the stress of cultivating the land.

Call your family doctor, she'll say. "When you make the appointment, tell them you have a sore throat."

A sore throat?

The farmer will look at her awkwardly.

Yes, she will assure them, a sore throat.

"Once you get into the office with the doctor, tell the doctor what you've told me, that you're having trouble sleeping, you're anxious all the time, often irritated," she says.

To a farmer, a sore throat or another physical ailment is a legitimate reason to see a doctor. And farmers are more likely to make the appointment with that as an excuse than to say they're depressed, she said. They might not even know they're depressed. Once they see the doctor, they might open up and the doctor could direct them to a counselor or other clinician, Brown said.

"I want people to first look into the mirror and take care of themselves and then their families," she said.

Reaching out to check on their neighbors is critical as well, she said.

Calling this a "tipping-point year," Brown referred to the various stressors this year for farmers including weather that delayed or prevented planting, international tariffs that have decreased demand for agricultural goods, and low prices for agricultural commodities.

Brown leans toward the unconventional in her approach to farm families who come to her trying to improve their businesses. She will present "Stop Fighting on the Way to the Funeral Home," a talk for attendees at Farm Science Review near London, Ohio, on Sept. 18 from 1 to 2 p.m. and again on Sept. 19 from 10 to 11 a.m. FSR is sponsored by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. In her presentation, Brown will share the mistakes families make that break up their businesses. In economically challenging times, farmers especially need a solid foundation for their businesses, she said.

"This is not a year when we can say, 'Hang on for another two months and we'll be back where we were,'" said Brown, who, together with her husband, farms corn and soybeans in Iowa.

One season of low commodity prices or one season of weather that affects yields can be dealt with, but some farmers have been struggling for several years. So they need to focus on what they can control or change about their business to do better, Brown said.

The most common mistake that proprietors of family-owned farms make is that they operate as a "family-first business," she said.

That means they make decisions based on habits and assumptions while ignoring business realities and conflict.

"By having a business-first family, you honor your family by doing the business right," she said. "You can increase your productivity, profitability, and peace of mind. And you can still sit together at the holiday table."

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