Extension offers support to build resiliency in farmers affected by climate stress and grief

A windmill on an Oregon farm.

A growing body of literature documents the mental health impacts of climate change on the general population, but with little focus on food producers that traditionally are less likely to seek out mental health support. However, due to the increasing stress and uncertainty of the future of farming due to climate change, more farmers are seeking mental health support and want to learn resiliency skills.

There are several factors that cause farmers to experience climate change stress and grief. Drought is one example. According to the 2021 Pacific Northwest Water Year Impacts assessment, 80% of surveyed farmers reported they changed operations due to drought. In preparation for a 2021 climate resilience training for Oregon’s agricultural professionals, 55% of the 275 registrants said the most common questions they get are about drought or water scarcity.

By increasing awareness and providing venues for climate grief and climate stress discussion, farmers can learn to take proactive measures to improve their emotional resilience. During 2022 climate resilience training for Oregon’s agricultural professionals, climate grief and climate stress were introduced, and the training received extensive positive feedback from participants who expressed they would like to see more trainings.

In response to the feedback, Oregon State University Extension and community partners in Southern Oregon formed a working group to address these issues with the idea that it could help food producers better identify and understand stress and grief related to climate change, identify strategies for greater mental health resilience, and learn about available mental health resources. The working group designed a 30-minute module on climate-related stress and grief for food producers. An evaluation tool was developed to measure:

  • Prior knowledge of climate grief and climate stress; increased knowledge of climate grief and climate stress after the training.
  • Awareness of healthy coping strategies they are currently using to cope with climate-related stress.
  • Increased intention to use resiliency strategies after the training; and 4) increased knowledge of mental health resources available to them.

Results from the survey indicated that 100% of respondents reported their awareness of the emotional impacts they are experiencing related to climate change increased after attending the training. It was also found that “worry,” which is most associated with stress, was the number one reported emotion by respondents (92.3%) and “sadness” was reported as the second-most experienced emotion (89.7%). In response to the statement, “After this training, I am more confident in my ability to access needed climate grief/stress resources,” 94.6% marked "Agree” or “Strongly Agree.”

The resulting project, "Climate Stress and Grief: Building Resilience in Farmers and Ranchers," features sessions in September, October and November and also includes links to additional resources.