Washington, D.C. April 20, 2020.
Stress levels are high among America’s soybean farmers. The terms “stress,” “anxiety,” and “concerns over mental health” were used dozens of times in an informal survey released this week by the American Soybean Association (ASA).
The survey was an initiative of the ASA COVID-19 Task Force, a 12-person group formed in March consisting of ASA board members and senior staff, state affiliate leaders, and a representative from sister soybean organizations, United Soybean Board (USB) and U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC). It was sent to approximately 140 farm leaders serving on the boards of ASA, USB and USSEC, with 60% of those persons participating. In many cases, as with feeling stressed and the need for improved internet access in rural America, the consensus was clear.
“We were struck immediately by how many respondents talked openly about the high levels of stress and anxiety on their farms,” said Ryan Findlay, CEO of ASA. “Fear at smaller operations that critical workers will get sick, concerns over taking care of elderly parents and children not able to attend bricks-and-mortar classrooms right now. (There’s also) worries over workers scared they will get sick not showing up — and that’s only the important human aspect; before you even get into prices, loan access and aid concerns, input delays and a host of problems hitting tangential industries like pork, beef, poultry, and dairy on which our industry relies.”
Eighty-six anonymous surveys were submitted, with answers coming from 26 of the U.S.’s 30 primary soybean-producing states and farms of various sizes. Questions addressed concerns and reactions to both employee safety and sustaining operations during the coronavirus outbreak.
An overwhelming majority – 82% –indicated they are practicing social distancing, washing hands, and other practices to minimize exposure, with very few (3%) indicating they are not making any changes. Also of note, 73% of respondents were moderately or extremely concerned about their farm being impacted by COVID-19. And 44% said the pandemic has already affected their farms, and another 33% feel trouble is likely on its way. While more than a fourth are uncertain how to respond to exposure, most are working on plans for both employee safety and continuing operations should persons become sick. Yet, the prevalence of open-ended responses citing fear and stress is deeply concerning.
“It is even more evident that we must all be aware of the importance of checking on our neighbors, making sure they have resources not just to farm, but to maintain both physical and, importantly, mental health in what is an ongoing time of extreme stress in our Ag communities. For soy, we have felt impacts first from China trade issues, and now from coronavirus, that are compounding an already weakened farm economy. We want to do our part at ASA to protect grower interests in D.C. and assure their well-being on the farm,” asserted Findlay.
The objective of the ASA COVID-19 Task Force is to collect information on how COVID-19 is impacting soy farmers and share that information with national leaders, as well as to communicate information from national leaders to soy farmers and the agricultural community.
A copy of the full survey report may be requested from the ASA Communications team, Wendy Brannen, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Blair Shipp, email@example.com.