Grit and determination are deeply rooted in South Dakotans. But, when needs emerge, a good neighbor is essential. Two major needs emerged in 2017 - drought and stress.
As a neighbor with more than a century of experience, SDSU Extension understands the devastation a drought brings - seen and unseen. We were ready with a team of experts to deliver real-time unbiased resources and time-tested research-based management practices through local meetings, iGrow.org, 4 livestock decision aid calculators available at igrowlivestocktools.org, social media, and state-wide media outlets to connect South Dakotans. Action in the midst of a state-wide emergency is crucial. Timely decisions needed to be made to protect assets and natural resources.
Many who attended local SDSU Extension drought meetings said the information they received gave them the informed direction and guidance they needed to make tough, yet necessary decisions. Making tools like forage and water quick tests easy to access prevented livestock losses. This would not have been possible without partnering with agencies such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture and the South Dakota Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Stress, like drought, can leave its mark, especially on rural farm families. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed agriculture as the occupational group with the highest rate of suicide overall. SDSU Extension worked with Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas to form the “Rural Family Support Network”, and will serve as the lead state in 2018 for a $25,000 grant to launch this work.
We surveyed 185 farmers/ranchers and found startling results. Almost 10% reported some form of depression, and of even more concern 12.5% reported feeling that life wasn’t worth living at least some of the time.
Because our staff are a trusted resource during difﬁ cult times, it was critical that staff were provided with current best practices. This was done through webinars and workshops, such as the national webinar titled “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress: Best Practices”. Providing tools, like iGrow articles available to the public on this topic, also provided quick and accessible information available 24/7. We will continue to work on breaking the stigma attached to mental health, and focus on discussing overall health and wellness. SDSU Extension continues to remain a consistent and trusted resource for South Dakotans in good times and in bad.