Catholic Family Services offers help and hope to farmers and ranchers under stress

Aerial view of spring flooding in Tabor. (Photo courtesy of Jackrabbit Seed LLC)
By Renae Kranz

There is hope and help for South Dakota farmers and ranchers who face a working environment weighed down by stress brought on by the unfavorable conditions coming from several directions. Catholic Family Services is one of several places that can offer support.

We’ve seen over the last five years how extended losses year over year can create an environment that seems impossible to work in. The financial stress turns into emotional, physical and family stress.

The U.S. government’s tariff war with China and other countries isn’t helping. Farmers and ranchers, in particular those growing soybeans, are affected by various U.S. tariffs, and then retaliatory tariffs hit them back. On top of that, they feel squeezed by the uncertainty of a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

And the weather hasn’t helped either.

For ranchers, blizzards followed by spring flooding have made raising livestock difficult to say the least. Many lost calves buried in snow during the late spring blizzard. The flooding that followed added stress to the cattle, putting them at risk of stringing out and increasing chances of sickness. More losses may come.

Growing crops is no better. A report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows South Dakota crops are suffering more than most in the region due to wet weather this spring. Soybeans and corn are in especially poor shape.

One tell-tale sign is the number of days suitable for fieldwork this past spring—only 1.1 days per week were suitable compared to 5.8 days during the spring months of 2018 according to NASS. This pushed planting back for weeks and contributed to the poor condition of many crops.

These compounding problems have led some farmers and ranchers to go bankrupt or sell out to avoid bankruptcy, allowing larger farm corporations to buy up those farms. This ultimately changes the landscape of farming and small towns in South Dakota.

Dr. Marcie Moran of Catholic Family Services says the stress brought on by all of it can change the landscape of families as well. She sees it all the time in her work with the farming and ranching communities.

“The small farmer hates to see farms being sold because the family unit is affected,” Moran said. “It’s hurting the churches, the schools and small towns. Some towns lose their schools. That’s a really hard hit.”

Over the years, Moran has held farm crisis programs around the diocese to help farmers and ranchers manage stress, avoid depression and talk about family relationships. But farmers and ranchers tend to be reluctant to attend or find it hard to take time out of their already full days. It’s mostly wives who attend.

“It’s hard for the men to come,” Moran said. “They’ve all got stress from this, and they don’t know what to do.”

Moran says if you need help, you can either get in touch with your parish priest or contact Catholic Family Services directly. You can get individualized assistance or set up an all-day program for your community on managing stress and avoiding depression.

“They should all be calling us because they’ve all got stress from this,” Moran said. “This is their entire life, not just their eight to five.”

Moran suggests watching for signs of depression (see sidebar below) in the farmers and ranchers in your life. They can tip you off to the right time to seek help.

A big sign to watch for is social isolation. Moran says if the person stops going to church or to town like they used to, or disappears for long periods of time, it may be time to get assistance. That assistance could be from your priest, Catholic Family Services or other counseling services, or your family doctor.

“Sometimes they might go to the doctor, but they won’t go to the mental health center,” Moran says. “They won’t go unless their doctor tells them to.”

People in the parishes of small towns can help, too. Hold special prayer days for farmers and ranchers and for crops, Moran says. Recognize the problem as a parish family. Hold free social activities people can attend for social engagement and to talk to others in the community.

Our farmers and ranchers need our support. Pray for them and talk to them. Be there for them.

If you need help from Catholic Family Services, call 1-800-700-7867 or go to

Watch for these signs of stress

  • Frequent physical illness
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of energy
  • Frequent outbursts of temper
  • Guilt
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Avoiding social contacts
  • Depressive mood
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to cope with small changes
  • Overall change in behavior or personality
  • Not talking anymore
  • Making repeated depressive comments about the situation
  • Putting themselves down repeatedly
  • Substance abuse