Focus on Mental Health: RECOGNIZING THE ISSUE

This is the first in a five-part series on mental health in agriculture.

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt throughout the world. Packing plant closures and slowdowns have had a ripple effect on the economy, especially within the swine industry. JoDee Haala, who leads the Minnesota Pork Board and is the public affairs director for Christensen Farms, says pig farmers are making very difficult decisions.

“Agriculture has been through a lot of changes. And, this definitely will be a inflection point, and will be a moment in history for obviously the entire world. But, for farmers, it’s okay not to be okay, and it’s so essential to reach out for help. We’ve got a very great work ethic, resilient group of people that have been dealt one bad hand after another here and it’s very important to reach out to those resources. They’re free and they’re there for you.”

Pork producers are under extreme pressure right now. Resources are available for those who are struggling with during this uncertain time. Haala encourages farmers to rely on your network of people going through the same challenges.

“It’s uncomfortable to talk about, if you are struggling financially or the decisions that people are having to make on their farm. But, there’s a lot of friendly people out there in the ag sector that really just want to help and lean on each other for some support here. People, as in any business, people are what make agriculture so great and there is a tremendous amount of support for each other and open ears. And, I will tell you no one’s in a position of judgment by any means at this point.”

Pork processing plants are beginning to resume operation, but it will take time to be at full capacity. Pork production is a just-in-time industry which has resulted in the backlog of hogs. Haala believes this issue will continue to be a challenge long after the plants reopen.

“Producers, they don’t raise pigs without knowing where they’re going to go. So, they’ve made their commitments and they have their contracts in many places. This is all planned months in advance based off of what the consumer meat demand is and what the plants need to do to be efficient. This isn’t just about opening them back up, because you still have those animals that were intended to be harvested at that time frame, but then now you have this backlog that has been growing in inventory out on farms. There’s only so many hours in a day, you can’t just add more hours to your harvest capacity and think you are going to work through that. So, this will be with us, for I would venture to say a year in some cases, depending on how those decisions were made on farm.”

The Pork Checkoff has digital resources available regarding the current coronavirus situation, emergency best management practices and communication tools at pork.org/COVID-19