Some farmers were sent a list of suicide-prevention hotlines along with their paychecks

By Rebecca Firkser
Updated February 28, 2018
Credit: chrispecoraro

Milk prices in the United States have been declining for four years, and dairy cooperatives have noticed the toll it is taking on their farmers. According to NPR, three farmers who belong to Agri-Mark Inc., a dairy cooperative (with about 1,000 members) committed suicide in the past three years. With predictions for 2018 milk prices not looking any better, farmers worry the situation will only grow worse.

Dairy farmers lead extremely physically and financially demanding jobs for little reward. Will Rogers, a farmer in Warren, Massachusetts, told NPR that the price he currently gets for milk is no higher than it was several decades ago, and it’s not nearly enough money to break even. "It's tough to keep your head up with all of what's going on," Rogers said.

Agri-Mark, which pays farmers monthly to supply milk that will go to several larger companies, among them Cabot and McCadam, noticed the price decline and wanted to help. Along with February paychecks, the co-op sent a chart predicting bleak 2018 prices and a list of suicide prevention hotlines.

"We knew there was no great way to do it," Blake Gendebien, farmer and member of the Agri-Mark Board of Directors, said to NPR. "We decided a letter with the check would be best, because everyone opens a letter with their milk check." Further, Gendebien feels the co-op deserves credit for not shying away from addressing mental health issues, which have been greatly stigmatized.

Though the documents sent by Agri-Mark were well-intentioned, Rogers believes they were sent rather brusquely and could prove harmful to his fellow farmers’ outlook on life. Considering that this is the only job many of these people have had, Rogers and his fellow farmers don’t think of their work as something they can just stop doing if they’re not making good money and starting to feel hopeless. "This isn't a job,” says Rogers. “It's a way of life, and what I was put on this planet to do."

NPR says that Agri-Mark has promised to start offering free counseling services to farmers starting in March in hopes of preventing more suicides.