Some Americans picture the life of a farmer as the epitome of peace and tranquility. Television commercials and TV shows depict sunny skies and happy people working on the farm.
I can tell you from personal experience that it isn’t always so.
When I was a kid growing up in Eastern North Carolina, I spent my summers working for two tobacco farmers – harvesting the golden yellow leaves and curing them in barns before sending them on to market. Easy right? Not always. The farmers I worked for were good, decent people who were easygoing and friendly at all times of the year except for tobacco harvesting time.
When things didn’t go well during the harvest, they could blow like a volcano – swearing and yelling at us workers, at the tobacco plants, at cars going by on the highway, and in volumes loud enough to be heard two counties away. I was always amazed that these two farmers, whom I respected and got along with, could color the air around them purple with profanity at the drop of a hat during tobacco season.
It didn’t help that most of the farmers’ troubles originated with the gang of high school kids they had hired to get the harvest in. We fouled up plenty and got blistering tongue lashings when we did. I’m 59 years old, and I still remember getting verbal beatings from 45 years ago.
When those farmers were under immense stress, it was as if their entire farms quivered in response. Tension started seeping into the very fabric of the workplace. The pressure made them more irritable, less patient, and occasionally prone to outbursts of frustration. As the weeks wore on, the atmosphere on the farm turned hostile. The farm crew, once content, now found themselves uncomfortable and anxious. Communication faltered amidst this growing tension, leading to misunderstandings and inefficiencies.
And then there was the matter of productivity. High levels of stress often push those farmers to the brink of burnout. The resulting exhaustion was like a contagion that spread, affecting farmers and their employees. Motivation dwindled, focus waned, and energy levels plummeted, rendering the farm crew less effective in their tasks. This decline in performance caused delays in farm operations and potential financial losses that no one could afford.
Safety on the farm also became a concern. Stressed-out and overwhelmed by their burdens, those two farmers sometimes took risks or cut corners, often compromising the safety of the working crew. Safety measures and protocols, once sacrosanct, were now treated as mere afterthoughts, putting workers at risk of accidents and injuries. I still carry physical scars from my time in those tobacco fields.
Some crew members could not take it and sought employment elsewhere. Constantly hiring and training new staff drained resources and disrupted the farm’s operations. What remained was an unstable work atmosphere that took a toll on the morale of the employees who stayed. Those of us who remained behind all hoped and prayed that we would make it to the end of the harvest season without getting fired, injured, or both.
The well-being of farmers turns out to be a cornerstone for the success of the farm. By positively addressing their stress, they can set a positive ripple effect in motion. It benefits themselves and the dedicated employees who worked alongside them with newfound vitality and resilience.
Thanks to Dr. D. Barry Croom for this guest post. Dr. Croom is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communication in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UGA Tifton.