Saskatchewan

Farmers turn to stress line as Sask. crop harvest lags due to weather

Danny Ottenbreit's September has been spent hoping and waiting for drier weather.  Ottenbreit, who farms near Grayson, about two hours northeast of Regina, only has 13 per cent of his crop in the bin. 

39% of crops in the bin, as of Sept. 17-23, compared to 62% over the last 5 years

Only 23 per cent of this year's harvested crop is in the bin, thanks to poor weather. (Tory Gillis/CBC)

Danny Ottenbreit's September has been spent hoping and waiting for drier weather. 

Ottenbreit, who farms near the village of Grayson — 142 kilometres northeast of Regina — only has 13 percent of his crop in the bin. 

"Historically we're usually like 60 per cent at this point," said Ottenbreit, who blames the recent wet weather and high humidity for ruining his crops.

Ottenbreit isn't the only farmer dealing with a difficult harvest; the crop report for the week of Sept. 17-23 shows 39 per cent of crop province-wide has been harvested.

The five year average for this time of year usually sees 62 per cent of the province's crops harvested.

The outlook remains grim as snow is forecasted for some areas of the province in the next few days.

Stress line sees influx of calls 

Dealing with fickle harvest weather can take a toll on farmers' stress levels. Ottenbreit said he has noticed his anxiety acting up occasionally. 

"We're constantly worried about what it's going to be like in the morning," he said.

"You get a little bit of a short fuse. You're quicker to throw a wrench at something."

Danny Ottenbreit has only harvested about 13 per cent of his crop on his farm near Grayson, Sask. He's feeling the impact the stress has had on him. (Danny Ottenbreit )

John McFadyen, executive director of Regina Mobile Crisis Services which runs the provincial Farm Stress Line, said operators have been busy fielding calls from farmers concerned about their crops, sleeping or issues with a signifcant other.

"There's individuals in the farming community (who) also deal with mental illness ... and that certainly becomes more difficult when there's added stress," McFadyen said.

The helpline saw another peak in traffic at the end of May when dry weather prevented crops from growing.

Calls to the line have more than doubled in the past couple of years. McFadyen believes the increase is due to more awareness about mental health services and the reduction of the stigma around it in the farming community. 

There were 320 calls were taken between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. Seven-hundred-fifty-eight (758) calls were recorded between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.

Group offers help to struggling farmers 

Do More Ag (DMA) is a Saskatchewan organization that aims to help farmers suffering from mental health issues and increased stress by connecting them with mental health resources. 

Adelle Stewart, executive director, said the group's website gets busier during harvest and often wet weather will agitate farmers more. 

Adelle Stewart, executive director of Do More Ag, says the organization helps support farmers dealing with the stress of the industry, including the stress of harvest. (Do More Ag )

"That can lead to a lot of stress because you can have the best laid plans but if you don't have a plan B, C (or) D everyday you wake up, there's something different you could be facing," said Stewart. 

Farmers, said Stewart, often get caught up in their work during harvest and don't always make mental health a priority. 

"The old cliche is that you have to make hay when the sun shines (and) you don't always get to stop and take care of yourself," she said. 

A mental health awareness program established by DMA is also put on just after harvest ends. The DMA team travels to several rural communities across Canada to train people to identify mental health issues and provide support to other community members. 

With the continued bad weather, she encourages farmers to reach out and take advantage of mental health supports. A list of resources is also available on DMA's website.


In Saskatchewan, farmers or farm families who want to reach out for help can contact the Farm Stress Line at 1-800-667-4442.

About the Author

Ethan Williams is a reporter with CBC News in Saskatchewan. Before joining the CBC in September 2019, he worked as a reporter for the Regina Leader-Post. Contact him: ethan.williams@cbc.ca

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