CGND | Our Pasture View | May 2021

Maria Bichler

Maria Bichler is a wife, young mother of three and owner of Bichler Simmentals in Linton, N.D. She works from home as a journalist alongside her husband, Doug, as they manage their family’s 100-year-old farm and ranching operation.

Imagine being the sole owner and operator of a business which has preceded you for over 100 years. The prior owners are linked to you not by a paper trail but rather a blood relationship. The assets are in the millions. The liabilities, in a good year, are less, but a fluid balance sheet has been the norm as of late. In any given year, the unutterable term bankruptcy pops up in your mind often. The compensation package offers no over-time pay, no paid vacation. A retirement savings account, bonuses, annual salary – those don’t exist here.

Even so, you would never, could never imagine yourself doing any other work. This business makes your heart beat. This business provides for your family, your neighbor, community, the nation. Your feet are firmly planted in a legacy on the left and a dream on the right. The lifestyle this business provides is something you’d rather die for than give up.

American agriculture and the corresponding men and women contributed $1.109 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2019, a 5.2% share, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Those farms and ranches supply most of the country’s food not to mention fuel and fibers.

These men and women are often handed more than they can carry: near-record debt, drought, excess moisture, tariffs, bailouts, bankruptcy, plummeting commodity prices, the coronavirus pandemic and an occupation which rates as one of the most hazardous in America. More so, these souls are among the most likely to die by suicide when compared to other occupations. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farmers and ranchers commit suicide at nearly three times the national rate.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and many in the agricultural industry have battled or are struggling with mental health. No farmer or rancher, or their family members, should feel ashamed to shine a light on a once-taboo topic. No amount of pride should trump seeking support. I encourage you, if you’re removed from agriculture, to thank those who support this industry. If you are connected to agriculture, support those you know or suspect may be suffering. If you are suffering, know of your irreplaceable value and seek help.

How to get help

– The Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline can be reached by calling 833-600-2670, texting FARMSTRESS to 898211 or emailing farmstress@state.mn.us.

– The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

– The Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. Text HOME to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.

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