It’s harvest. More than likely, you find stressors popping up like weeds in a rainstorm. Weather often tops the list, followed by equipment breakdowns, the need for food, family dynamics, and poor communications. Those can be true whether you’re harvesting grass seed in Oregon, canola in Saskatchewan, apples in Michigan, or wheat in Kansas, soybeans in Maryland, or cotton in Alabama.
Studies show that emotional intelligence can make you more resilient in the face of stress, though it may be wise to work on this skill when you’re not in the thick of large equipment, long days, and short tempers. The recommended steps to build your emotional intelligence are to 1) recognize signs and 2) manage emotions.
Harvest calls on every family member participate, which means that stress can look different. Katie Grinstead, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, doesn’t drive semi or tractors, so she contributes by cooking nice meals for the harvest crew — on top of her dairy chores. She sees lots of farms in the area to feed and has dreamt of owning a food truck someday.
As for how she handles the stress? “I do my best not to complain too much about the long hours away from home and family. That has gotten better with age! I also have an amazing network of friends.”
Michigan farmer Nick Schweitzer, who just welcomed a newborn son during apple harvest, points to coffee as his happy place. “Some days there are so many dumpster fires to put out. This year has been a struggle keep ahead of our picking crew with boxes as the crop turned out much heavier than anticipated and overall movement of packed apples for fall pack has been slow. We haven’t seen the turnover and return of bins to fill them a second time as normal.”
Echoing many farmers across the country, Oklahoma farmer Curtis Vap reports, “Breakdowns are my stress. All dealers seem to say they are shorthanded on mechanics. When you have to wait a week or more to get someone to even look at a machine, it is frustrating. Some things I can fix myself but other times I just have to wait on the expert.”
“Spending time with my dog is the best stress relief I have found. No matter what’s broken or what season, he’s always by my side reminding me of what is truly important,” says Jon Hackett in Minnesota. Several other farmers pointed to their pets their stress relievers.
“Trying to get workouts out in to settle the anticipation and unknowns” is how Chris Sanford in Michigan best manages his stress load. Get ideas for how you can fit workouts in and the science of why it helps in this column on exercise.
“Having a plan really helps me stay calm and being willing to pivot with changes in locations, schedules, weather etc. Unclear communication leading to unmet expectations sends me over the edge,” says Ohio farmer Stacie Anderson. The need for a well-thought-out plan was echoed over and over, particularly by women who farm.
Poor communications can create friction during long harvest days. Some point to the grain elevator not communicating that they’ll be closing an hour earlier as example. Others talk about “on your way home” is not accurate communications when the stop is 40 miles in the opposite direction of home.
Megan McDowell in Georgia points to a different communications challenge. “The old guard being snappy at the kids coming up. Teach ‘em, show ‘em, praise ‘em, and if they need their ear chewed, take it behind the barn. We need our kids to want to stay on the farm/ranch.”
Weather tops the list of Rita Herford’s stressors. “We are always trying to beat the weather and it calls for long hours, little sleep, and little kids who don’t understand it. For the kids we found making a poster count down and crossing off fields to show progress helps them see what’s being done.” As far as the weather, she’s still working on that one. LOL!
“This year is the first year we are farming with my father-in-law, husband and now our son. Four personalities and abilities! Everyone is still finding their groove and where each of us fit into the picture,” says Iowa farmer Amy Glick. “I typically I drive the combine, but also make the evening meal if we are work late. Making sure I have all my ducks in a row to make that happen is sometimes a struggle. Having take-out helps that stress a lot.”
Meghan Leibold is also in the combine and nutrition is her major stressor. “It’s so important to eat healthy to maintain a sharp and quick mind. I’m not home and when I am it’s to shower, sleep, repeat. I do my best to prep ahead of time, and I have a few other tricks up my sleeve. But I find we still end up eating processed, packaged, ready-made foods. And the second thing is trying to keep up with office work…can’t do it all from your phone. Not home, no time, exhausted with poor nutrition.”
Food is an important way to manage or increase stress levels on the farm. Planning and working ahead with food prep can help a lot, as suggested by dietitians.
As you progress into the final days of the season, remember emotional intelligence means re-evaluating your perspective of the situation. It’s a business skillset. If you can change your mindset, you can change behavior, and then change the outcome.
While harvest is a stressful season, keep in mind that it is a celebration of the year’s hard work. You bought the seed to life, successfully grew it, and are now harvesting the fruits of your labor. Take time to enjoy the beautiful sunsets from the combine, walk across a recently harvested field, or capture photos of the product you’re proud of.
Michele Payn helps the people of agriculture have the tough conversations about managing stress, connecting with consumers, and making sense of science through her speaking and writing. Learn more at causematters.com or follow @mpaynspeaker on social media.