Business consulting, suicide hotlines available for struggling farmers in St. Lawrence County, elsewhere
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 2:56 pm

CANTON -- With low milk prices creating a struggle for farmers, St. Lawrence County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board is reminding dairy producers of resources ranging from business consulting to suicide hotlines.

A spike in calls to suicide hotlines from farmers has been noted in several reports, including an article New York Times.

“As a farmer,” said County Ag and Farmland Protection Board Chair Robert G. Andrews, “your identity is tied to the success or failure of your farm. When business is good, you’re happy and your outlook is good. But when business is bad, you can’t help but question what went wrong and what you could have done differently.” Andrews explained that when a farm is breaking even or operating at a loss, it can be difficult for farmers to reach out for help because they don’t want others to know. “But reaching out,” said Andrews “could save your business; it could even save your life.”

There are four organizations that offer a range of services to St. Lawrence County farmers, from business consulting to crisis management. They are Cornell Cooperative Extension’s North Country Regional Ag Team, NYFarmNet, the New York State Agricultural Mediation Program, and Reachout of St. Lawrence County.

Two members from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s North Country Regional Ag Team offer consulting services to farm operations. Kim Morrill is a dairy management specialist who focuses on calf and heifer management, as well as records management. Kelsey O’Shea is the team’s agricultural business development specialist and advises farm operators on how to improve profitability. Both individuals offer services to farms in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

The New York State Agricultural Mediation Program offers debt mediation services and can help producers address delinquent accounts and loans, and negotiate realistic payment plans. All conversations are private and confidential, and the organization can help farmers decide if mediation is a good option to pursue.

NY FarmNet provides free and confidential on-farm services throughout the state. The organization offers personal consultants who specialize in financial analysis, business planning, transition planning, estate planning, family communication, personal well-being and stress management.

Because New York farm families are experiencing higher levels of financial and emotional stress due in part to several years of low commodity prices, NY FarmNet prepared a help sheet on identifying signs of stress and depression, and numbers to call in time of crisis.

Reachout of St. Lawrence County offers a free, 24-hour hotline to persons in emotional crisis. With professional staff and as many as 70 volunteers trained in suicide intervention, Reachout provides confidential and non-judgemental listening assistance, referrals to services as needed, and will deploy a mobile crisis team to meet and assess people at risk throughout St. Lawrence County.

In addition to business and mental health assistance, food pantries and free community meals are also available throughout St. Lawrence County.

If farmers find they cannot afford groceries, GardenShare maintains an online directory of food pantries, a schedule of free community meals and a variety of food assistance programs that residents can apply for.

“When food assistance is needed,” said GardenShare Board President Carol Pynchon, “GardenShare works to ensure it’s provided in a dignified way that respects the receiver and the giver of assistance. We’re here to make sure everyone has access to safe and decent food regardless of the personal and financial circumstances.”