January 18, 2022

Calloway: Farmer suicides are on the rise

He sits beside his machine. He thinks to himself, “What a beautiful machine, if only it ran right.” He knows he can’t afford a new one.

His harvest last year had been dismal. The crops have not been growing well.

This tractor was the only thing he thought wouldn’t give up on him. He bought it used, but it had only been lightly used.

His mind races; “I can repair this myself, but the dealer won’t touch it after I repair it,” he thinks to himself.

He can’t afford to take it to the dealer. He can’t even afford to pay the rent on his land, let alone the loans on everything else.

He feels alone, as if he is a burden to his family. He feels as though he has let down his father, who left him the farm when he passed away last fall. His father was the only one who could help him.

He is not the kind of guy to ask for help or a handout. He is too proud.

Many times, he sits alone in his barn contemplating what could have been if he hadn’t have taken over the farm. He is joined by his one true friend, man’s best friend, his dog. Sometimes to keep the loneliness away he talks to him.

“I read in the paper that the Johnsons repaired their own tractor and now the dealer will not,” he said, shocked, to the dog. “I guess they’re suing the dealer for refusing to repair it. What have the times come to these days? A man can’t even work on his own machinery without worrying about it — as if there wasn’t already enough for them to be worried about?”

Growing up he had watched his father repair almost anything. From the house to the machinery, he had been taught by his father to repair.

He knew his machines inside and out. For goodness sakes, he had spent so many hours with each of them, it was the least he could do.

It was getting dark, and he was spent, so he decided to call it a day. It wasn’t like he was going to get much sleep anyway. Like most nights, he would lie awake and think about all the bills stacking up.

He woke up the next morning, once again tired from the day before. He had no choice but to continue. He decided to fix the machine.

He started in on the daunting task. If there was one thing he wasn’t the best at, it was wiring. He tried and tried and tried, but to no avail, he failed and failed and failed.

He grew more and more frustrated. He decided to have the dealership send out a road technician to look.

It seemed like hours, but the technician finally arrived.

“Afternoon,” said the technician.

“Good afternoon,” said the farmer sarcastically.

They talked for a few minutes about the tractor and the technician said, “I am very sorry to say this, but because you tried to repair this yourself, I am going to have to completely replace this entire harness.”

The farmer stood there dumbfounded.

“Why would you have to do that?” replied the farmer.

“Well, according to company policy, we cannot repair anything that the customer has tampered with,” said the technician.

The farmer was lost for words.

“I have been watching my father repair things for years with no problems and now this?” asked the farmer.

“I am deeply sorry, but it is going to be quite costly to replace this,” said the technician.

“That’s what I was trying to avoid,” the farmer said, as he anxiously swayed back and forth.

He knew he could not afford to replace the harness. He barely could afford to buy the tractor and put fuel in it. He declined the repair and went back to his shop.

He sat as his desk and pondered the meaning of life and all the decisions he had made. He thought back to the days when it was him and his father out in the field together.

He now felt alone. He felt as if the odds were against him.

The only thing that could release him was unspeakable, but he was thinking it.

He played with his dog for a while. He had finally had enough. He knew he had to get out of the situation he was in. He poured himself some whiskey on ice.

He had an old bottle of pills in his desk he had used to treat some livestock years ago. He opened the bottle and shook them out onto the desk.

As he thought of the memories, he took a handful with a shot of whiskey and faded. He hoped to see his father again.

Suicide cases in farmers have risen in the last few years. There are some ways to combat this epidemic.

One warning sign is social isolation. This means if you know anyone who has not been as outgoing or active lately, check in on them.

Another warning sign is lack of appetite or lack of sleep. If you know anyone who is dealing with these symptoms, reach out to them and make sure they’re OK.

Above all reach out to your local farmers and thank them for feeding America.

Camden Calloway is majoring in agricultural economics at Purdue University. His estimated graduation date is May 2025.