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Slow harvest and mental health a concern for Alberta farmers

With more rain and snow in the forecast for much of Alberta this week, its bad news for farmers who rely on a quality crops for income. Tiffany Lizée has more on the mental toll recent weather is taking.

The end of September snow in parts of Alberta threw a wrench into what was an already stressful harvest season.

With more rain and snow in the forecast for much of the province this week, it’s bad news for farmers who rely on quality crops for income.

READ MORE: Southern Alberta snow storm hammers rural areas

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Lyle Jensen farms land near Nobleford, Alta., and says farmers have been spending long hours in the combine to try to beat the next snowfall. He says some are feeling the pressure.

“Right now, it’s a race against the clock for the silage, and that’s definitely going to throw a wrench into everybody’s plans,” Jensen said.

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READ MORE: Farmers team up to put mental illness stigma out to pasture

Harvest progress in Alberta

Right now, about 34 per cent of crops are in the bin across Alberta, when normally that number would be over half.

AF/AFSC Crop Reporting Survey released on October 4, 2019.
AF/AFSC Crop Reporting Survey released on October 4, 2019. Cody Coats/Global News

READ MORE: Wet growing season prompts Leduc County to declare state of agricultural disaster

Northern and central Alberta farmers are the farthest behind because of a wet and cool summer.

Southern Alberta is faring the best, with almost 80 per cent complete. However, crop yields in that part of the province won’t be as big because of several dry summers in a row and unfortunately, a blast of wet weather this late in the season downgrades the quality of grain.

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Jensen said after a series of bad years, farmers in the area are feeling the pinch.

“For a lot of guys on dry land, this is the third pretty poor drought year in a row now, which is really starting to take a toll.”

Farmer David Reid checks on his wheat crop after a weekend of snowy weather near Cremona, Alta., Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Some areas of southern Alberta have received over 60 cm of snow since last Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Farmer David Reid checks on his wheat crop after a weekend of snowy weather near Cremona, Alta., Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Some areas of southern Alberta have received over 60 cm of snow since last Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

READ MORE: More fall snow makes tough Alberta harvest season tougher: ‘It’s depressing. It’s stressful’

Mental health and farming

Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner is a counsellor with the Calgary Counselling Centre. Babins-Wagner said recognizing symptoms of anxiety and depression is important for farmers who are under stress.

According to Alberta Health Services, those who are feeling effects of fatigue, anxiety or depression may:

  • feel sad, grumpy or moody
  • lose interest in their usual activities
  • eat more and crave carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta
  • gain weight
  • sleep more but still feel tired
  • have trouble concentrating
  • have thoughts that life is not worth living
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READ MORE: Sask. farmers helping make mental health first aid training more accessible

“If you find talking to your friends isn’t helping [and] that if you’re not sleeping at night and you’re stressed and you’re not eating and you’re seeing changes in your moods, your attitudes, your feelings, then I think those are signs that you may want to take that next step,” Babins-Wagner said.

There is no agriculture-specific mental health crisis line in Alberta, but last March, the rural municipalities of Alberta asked the province to create one.

Babins-Wagner said for now, that next step for farmers or anyone struggling with stress is calling 211 so a resource specialist can set you up with a counsellor or support group.

More information can also be found on the Alberta 211 website.