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Handling stress on the farm

By Staff | Feb 8, 2020



MILFORD-Unfavorable weather, depressed commodity markets and a labor shortage have combined to create-or elevate-levels of personal and financial farm stress.

Farm stress is what prompted Iowa State University (ISU) Extension and Outreach to create the Farm Couple Getaway-a chance to spend a Friday evening and Saturday with other farm couples, focusing on improving family communication, setting goals for the family and farm, working through farm succession or just spending time off of the farm discussing and working on family farm issues.

The event has taken place in eastern Iowa in early 2020, including Strawberry Point and Decorah. The Northwest Iowa session will take place Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22 at Lakeshore Center near Milford, on the shores of Lake Okoboji. The final event of the year will take place in Dubuque in March.

“Past Farm Couple Getaways in other parts of the state have proven to be very successful and beneficial to the couples who attended,” said Fred Hall, Northwest Iowa Dairy Program Specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach, who is hosting the Milford event.

The event is for all farm couples, regardless of age or where they are in the industry. Space is limited to 10 couples at an event, and there is no fee to participate, aside from a $50 deposit to hold a registration, which is refundable on the second day of the event.

Hall said the event is designed to help farm couples deal more effectively with stress, learn about personality differences and creative communication styles, communicate more effectively with their spouse and children, discover helpful resources withing their local communities through ISU Extension and Outreach, make basic decisions and plans for the family and farm’s future, and enjoy a break from the farm.

“A little over a year ago the dairy specialists were together and discussing the stress we were seeing,” said Hall. “We put together a fact sheet talking about stress and grief in the marketplace.”

Hall said one part of the fact sheet featured how to talk to the kids when there isn’t enough money, and one part talked about how women think differently than men, and how to get along when ‘things fall apart.’ He said the fact sheet was well received, and it blossomed from there.

A similar program like the Farm Couple Getaway was being done in Wisconsin, and the Iowa event was designed after that one.

Hall said Lakeshore Center near Milford was selected as the site for the Northwest Iowa event for two main reasons.

“When we were looking for a place to host in Northwest Iowa, we found there weren’t many hotels or motels that offered meeting rooms or the kind of environment we were looking for,” he said. “(Someone) recommended this resort, which is fairly new and it looks right over the lake and has a fantastic environment.”

“Environment is important-you don’t want it to be sterile it needs to be inviting, and this location will do the trick for us,” he said.

The event is limited to 10 couples because Hall said it offers enough mass to support steady conversation flow, but it’s small enough that people feel free to share their thoughts.

“It’s important because this program allows for interaction between couples, and between individuals within a couple,” said Hall.

He said Friday afternoon and evening will include socializing, personality education, listing farm stressors and how it affects their goals, and a candlelight dinner. Saturday will introduce more of the ‘work part’ of the getaway, where couples start on some goal setting.

“They will really think about how we treat other people,” he said.

He added that varying ages of couples will help the group overall learn, since some will be young farm couples and others might be at an age where they are working on farm succession, etc.

“Everyone can learn from each other,” he said. “The younger ones can learn from the experience of the older couples-some do’s and don’ts from those who have ‘been there, done that.’ “

Hall said an event like this – designed to sort out what happens with people and a farm – is important.

“When you look at the ag environment, which has been super stressful within the last five years (it can create friction between family members). Imagine if you had 1,000 cows behind that scene. This gives people the chance to understand the people you’re closest to, and think about how you communicate and think about how stress affects things.”

He said the getaway will help couples focus on their goals, including business, personal, spiritual, etc.

“They will write things down, which is key,” he said. “Instead of just talking about things, we are going to ask them to write it down-what they want relationships to look like within the next year, what they want their business to look like in five years, etc.”

Hall said writing goals down is paramount to the success of this event because if further solidifies the goals.

Speakers for the event include Larry Pranel, psychologist/dairy specialist/preacher, and Lori Hayungs, ISU Extension human science specialist from Sioux County, who will talk about stress on the farm and ways to cope with it.

“When the couples leave, we hope a couple of things happen,” said Hall. “We want them to become a peer group and (be armed with) various ways they can strategize within relationships. We also want them to have written their goals and timelines down at the event, and then go home and work on them.”

Hall said this kind of getaway will offer skills on communication and planning that will be helpful in reducing farm stress.

“We’re always going to have stress in our lives,” he said “It can be debilitating or motivational, and we’d like this program to help transform it from debilitating to helping them become pro-active on their farms,” said Hall.

The event is sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, AMPI, Agro-Pur, Western Iowa Dairy Alliance and the ISU Extension and Outreach offices in O’Brien, Osceola, Lyon, Sioux and Clay counties.

“We are excited to bring this opportunity to Northwest Iowa and provide an opportunity for our farm couples o to learn, grow and relax a little bit while taking a break from the farm,” said Hall.

Seven of the 10 couples had registered as of the week of Jan. 19. For more information or to register, call the local ISU Extension and Outreach office, call Hall directly at (712) 737-4230, or email him at fredhall@iastate.edu.

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