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Optimistic farmer — even during tough times

Harvest time was approaching when I sat across Doug Albin at his kitchen island inside his Clarkfield farmhouse as he described the decision process on whether to plant or not to plant.

“I sat down at the kitchen table here and I had seven spread sheets laid out of different scenarios if we planted, if we planted late, where the price was going to be,” Albin told me.

“My wife finally asked me, ‘what do you know for sure?’ Then I started eliminating things off the table.” After all the agonizing over those seven spread sheets, Albin explained that he really didn’t make the final decision — Mother Nature did.

“Most of the decisions were made by the weather, not myself, because I can’t control the weather. They had 4 inches of rain out west of here (his farm) and the creek here came up and it flooded. I think it flooded three or four times this year.”

The flooding forced Albin to plant less corn and soybeans.

As I sat there listening to Albin talk about last spring, I wondered how much anguish was felt during many discussions through the years at that kitchen island. I looked out the kitchen window to look at the field full of radishes and turnips. During a normal summer, that field would be row after row of either corn or soybeans. But field flooded last spring, leaving it too wet for planting those crops.

A famous Will Rogers quote came to mind: “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”

While sharing his many frustrations, Albin showed plenty of that kind of optimism. “I have farmed since 1976. The first year I started farming we had a drought. I can tell you a drought is worse than getting rain. With drought you don’t have any hope. When you got rain, you are hoping it’s going to quit and it will dry out and you can get your crop out,” he said.

While contemplating whether or not to get into his fields to harvest his beans and corn he talked about keeping the faith that everything will be alright. “Farmers are pretty good in adapting,” he said. “There is a lot of crop that is out in the field right now, but if the sun breaks out and gets warm, the beans will disappear in a hurry, then farmers will go right into corn. But we’ve had a Halloween snowstorm where we got a foot of snow. We’ve had 12 inches of rain in September. And we made it out through all of those. We will do what we can.”

Of course there other challenges that have nothing to do with weather, like politics. Albin reminded me that politics are not his “cup of tea.” But he also told me politics will move markets and change the attitudes of people toward farming. His knowledge of the world trade goes beyond the acres of land he farms. He has been active with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association for years which has brought him to Washington, D.C., and several destinations in the world talking to present and potential agriculture trade partners. But he will admit he doesn’t care for the rigors of travel. He rather be home on the farm.

Besides politics, he would also rather not talk about the unthinkable. He has lost fellow farmers to suicide.

“It’s kind of a difficult situation because farmers don’t necessarily talk and express what they are thinking. I know two individuals that actually committed suicide because of the combination of the weather and the uncertainty of markets and the politics that are going on in the country and typically a farmer can handle the weather, but when it gets to be things beyond his control — the tariffs and the politics and all the uncertainty …,” he said.

Last June, Avera sent out a press release on its 24-hour hotline for distressed farmers. Farmers, ranchers and people who live in Midwest rural communities could call 1-800-691-4336. The call is free and confidential. The hotline is staffed by trained assessment counselors who put callers in touch with mental health resources. “Farmers are expected to be tough, but that ‘pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps’ mentality is so unfair to them,” Matthew Stanley, DO, clinical vice president for the Avera Behavioral Health Service Line, said in the release.

I reached out to Jay Gravholt, director of media relations with Avera, asking for the number of calls to the hotline. Avera estimates between 325 to 350 calls since February. Those estimated totals don’t seem like a lot, but it’s just enough to prove people are hurting.

“It’s tough, because you have people who hold it inside and outwardly appear like everything is normal, but inside — depression. The knotting in the stomach — it’s tough on people. I think this year really, really has shown it,” he said.

With all that has gone on this year, Albin would just like to know one thing from the Trump administration: “What is the end goal? What do you hope to achieve.”

“Nobody gives me an answer,” he said.

While waiting for his answer, Albin keeps his optimism.

“The harvest is always exciting. We’ll see the combines rolling, the beans going out,” he said. “I’m still having fun.”

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