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The Dark Side of Hemp Farming

The correlation between farmers and suicide has been prevalent since the 1980s, but the "Green Rush" has added more uncertainty, stress, and possibility of disaster to the plates of these agriculturists. 

As I'm writing this - after conducting a fair amount of online research to substantiate the information industry professionals - I'm quite literally disgusted at several sectors of the hemp market. The root of my disgust can be traced to mainstream media outlets that solely serve the cannabis market. The remaining stomach sickness is with the USDA and correlated agencies with acronyms for names, although that's been more of lingering pain. Why so mad?

"Hemp farmers are killing themselves in large enough numbers that we all should be discussing this in an open forum." 

I don't like suicide, I'm not too fond of cover-ups, and I don't care for social/political-topics that should be effecting regulatory decisions getting swept under the rug in a lot of things like Tik Tok. I thought it'd be interesting if I walked you through the emotional rise that I went through while conducting this research. For this reason, I put together some numbers to establish the appropriate level of "shock-value" needed to enjoy this post.

The Statistics

  • Suicide rates in agriculture are higher than for any other occupation: 84.5 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

  • Studies suggest suicide rates may be higher as some deaths are reported as accidents rather than suicides.

  • Not all farm states are included in CDC farm suicide statics (California, Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska are excluded), further skewing the numbers.

  • A "Farm Progress" article written by Todd Fitchette, sites research done by a group of Cal students. In it, they found that suicide rates in agriculture are five times higher than the national average 

  • Shockingly, farmers likeliness to kill themselves is more than double that of military combat veterans.

We should be close to getting on the same page. I feel that at worst, you're aware that this is a problem, and at best, you've considered looking into taking some sort of action to help affect change shortly (i.e., this post).

Initially, I was shocked that I hadn't naturally become aware of something that's seemingly an epidemic in the making. I was less shocked after realizing there were only a limited amount of published articles on the matter and that this issue was mostly a mention and not the foundation of the articles.

The only reason I became aware was my decision to take a break from working too hard in Texas, only to come to Colorado and work too hard. If not for that, then I wouldn't have gotten any quality time in with my Manufacturer Clark. And he wouldn't have told me that he had recently joined a lobbyist group aiming to have the Total THC limit raised to 1% n Colorado. A similar fight to that which is being fought on a national stage. FYI any time you are discussing hemp flower, the topic of "Hot crops" (crops with too high of a THC content) is almost always brought up. Nothing outside of the norm, right? 

Or so it was until he told me the primary reason why he committed to the lobbyist group - both time-wise and financially - which was the four suicides committed by hemp farmers in Colorado last year. 

"These unnecessary deaths came directly after the farmers were forced to destroy their crops due to THC content."

Mind you, when I received this news, the staggering number of farmer suicides in states like California and Oregon were -at that time- unknown to me. And still, just hearing about the four suicides in Colorado was enough for me to start framing this article in the name of awareness. After all, I couldn't be the only person who was (previously) oblivious to how "High-Risk" the agricultural farming industry is. 

The Causes

We've reviewed the statistics surrounding farmer-suicides in general, but let's dive deeper into some of the more obvious reasons that hemp-farming specifically, could be considered even more 'High-Risk" than say, farming potatoes.

Perhaps, we should start with some questions first to get the creative juices flowing before we' tear into' the current interim-guidelines as the sole cause for this mess. The following questions will highlight my point like a yellow "EXPO" marker:

  1. Did you know that in the 2014 Farm Bill, a government program was approved that would put multiple millions toward a plan to help mentally-ill and suicidal farmers and that after the politicians ultimately decided not to fund the program?

  2. Assuming the USDA knew about suicide rates being high amongst agricultural farmers, did they feel no need to discuss the potential consequences of having to destroy a whole "Hot Crop?" 

  3. Was remediation (removal of THC from a hot crop) not an option for a "Hot Crop"? 

  4. If a hemp-farmer was allowed to pay money to have their seasons yield magically become compliant or repurpose that crop to feed animals or make fiber, isn't that a "win, win"? 

  5. They have to assume that any penalty other than that of "Hey, Mr. Farmer set fire to your crop, please!" would probably reduce the chance of suicide, which should be a goal, right?

 There are various causes for concern for farmers in the hemp world. Among them: net farm income worries (the leading cause), social isolation among farmers, pesticide-induced issues, and the ever-present stigma related to mental health issues in this country.

As stated, the suicide/mental health stats for all agricultural farmers don't consider the potential (likely) added stresses of the hemp-industry. 

I can't help but assume that these stats probably increase with the volatility of the cannabis world as it is in its current state. Lawmakers seem to add potentially harmful and overwhelmingly pointless regulations weekly. Author Damian Mann recently stated in a Mail Tribune article:

"Hemp's ascendancy as Southern Oregon's top crop came crashing down for some this season with at least four suicides, acres wiped out by mold and other catastrophes that turned fields of dreams into nightmares."

The unstable nature of the market, a possible market crash in 2020, the uncertain THC % of hemp-plant genetics being grown in unfamiliar conditions by farmers who are unfamiliar with hemp-farming are all factors to be considered. In fact, self-imposed mistakes from inexperienced hemp-farmers have contributed to the suicide totals much as any other factor.

I can totally see a "Jim Jones" style mass-suicide taking place in Arizona, in the wake of whatever the hell just caused a massive 40% loss of its hemp-crop. Occasionally, I tend to lighten the mood of emotionally-heavy content with humor. You'll get used to it. 

When Michael Monarch, a local pioneer in the industry who is also the owner and founder of Oregon's Best Hemp LLC and co-owner of Epic Family Farms, was asked about the Oregon hemp-farmer suicides he said "I think it's a wakeup call, and that nothing is easy," 

The monarch made mention of one Applegate grower who committed suicide after mold destroyed his 20-acre crop.

Other inconveniences that are increasing hemp farmer's burdens include Labor shortages, the lack of DEA/FDA certified labs (mainly) in high-producing states, mold in crops, and "Hot Crop" destruction being implemented over "Hot Crop" remediation. 

That said, we can now aim to turn all of the emotions created up until this point and transform it into something positive and productive. Both for us and -more importantly- for the families and individuals that this issue is affecting. 

The Solutions
Q: What can we do to affect immediate and decisive change in the world of green- agriculture? 

Laura Drotleff recently explained the most actionable answer in a Hemp Industry Daily article, where she identifies a much-needed area of support. In it, she says, "Roughly 91% of farmers and farmworkers have financial issues that affect their mental health, and 87% are afraid they'll lose their farms, according to a May poll commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Yet, fewer than 20% of rural adults know how to access a therapist or counselor in their communities, the survey found.

Last year, Farm Aid reported a 30% increase in calls to its helpline, and in August, the organization partnered with the American Psychological Association to develop resources for stress and behavioral health.

Under Colin Peterson's (D-Minn.) new legislation, the Agriculture Department would be required to study "regulatory and market barriers" for hemp farmers. It would amend the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) by carving out a specific exemption for hemp-derived CBD.

" This new legislation will be very beneficial to small hemp farmers because it will remove a lot of regulatory and market barriers that hemp farmers face." 

"It will also provide more regulatory certainty," said Hemp, Inc. CEO Bruce Perlowin. "This legislation provides clarity in the marketplace, creates a pathway for hemp-derived products, and more opportunities for hemp farmers."

The bill, which has been referred to the Agriculture and Energy and Commerce Committees, also includes a provision that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research the costs of destroying hemp with excess THC content, the costs of implementing a hemp testing program, the "feasibility" of the testing timeline farmers must follow and "other known or potential challenges" related to participation in a domestic hemp market. The department would have to issue a report on its findings within one year of the bill's enactment.

To those whom the support of a bill may not be something, they're able to do. I ask again…

Q: What can we do to affect immediate and decisive change in the world of green- agriculture? 
A: Nothing! 

The reality is that for most of us, this issue (like many others) is far beyond our abilities, and well above our pay scales. Once you accept this, it makes the task ahead, less stressful, and more efficient. We learn we can't go at it alone, but we can make a difference through small, potent, and consistent acts that bring attention and awareness. 

When enough people follow this model, the attention eventually becomes wide-reaching and goes from being a farmer issue to a social problem. And social issues are harder to ignore, making them more likely to be seen by those with the ability to affect change massively. 

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