The rate of suicide in the dairy industry has skyrocketed nationwide. A new documentary, "On the Farm," by Mississippi State, highlights the struggles of Alabama farmers, including Lamar County farmer Will Gilmer.
Gilmer was a dairy farmer but recently transitioned to beef cattle after facing many challenges. He told 1819 News farming was more than a profession for him; it was a way of life.
In the new film, Gilmer explains farmers' financial and mental stresses.
"Suicide rate on dairy is very high," he says in the film. "It's bad. And a ton of that comes from the feeling of, 'I've let my family down."
Just 20 years ago, there were around 130 dairy farms in Alabama. Now there are only about 15.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health teamed up with the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries for the initiative "A Healthy You, A Healthy Farm." The program is designed to educate those in the agriculture industry about mental health and how to help those in crisis.
Nationwide, farmers have the fourth highest rate of suicide, but here in Alabama, it's even worse.
"Dairy producers across America are going out of business on a daily basis, and the suicide rate in dairy production is higher than any other sector – including Veterans," said Deborah Mills, Chairwoman of the National Dairy Producers Organization and a Director at the Organization for Competitive Markets. "We don't stand a chance against industrial agriculture or a Chinese takeover of our food system without checkoff reform, and I hope Americans wake up before it's too late."
The state's suicide rate for men in the farming, forestry, and fishing industries is 43.2 per 100,000, much higher than the national rate of 27.4 per 100,000.
A rise in operations prices, such as higher fertilizer and fuel prices, stricter regulations and inflation, unrestrained industry concentration and globalization, have crippled small farms.
The film was released in September to coincide with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, when mental health is in the spotlight. "On the Farm" can be watched online.
The film was funded as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Those involved hope that funding to the USDA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network will continue as part of the 2023 Farm Bill.
Anyone facing a mental health crisis can call 988 to be connected to available resources.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.