American Farmers Are Killing Themselves At An Unprecedented Rate

Suicide is exploding in America - and the increase isn't confined to celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Suicide rates have risen by an astonishing 30% since 1999, with suicidal people citing relationship stress, financial difficulties and other issues as the underlying cause.

But suicide rates have increased for some professions more than others. According to CBS, farmers are facing the highest suicide rate of any profession in the US. The suicide rate for people in the field of farming, fishing and forestry is 84.5 per 100,000 people - more than five times that of the broader population. And with retaliatory tariffs from China and the European Union set to further undermine US crop prices, a bad situation could be about to get worse. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, making the loans on which farmers depend increasingly expensive. 

Agriculture

The study comes with a few caveats: For one, it leaves out Iowa, a major agricultural state. And while farmers make up the bulk of the workers in their subgroup, they do share the designation with a small number of workers from related occupational groups, like fishing and forestry. But the figures largely jive with other recent studies. For example, suicide rates are highest in rural areas - where the bulk of farming is done.

One source said today's crisis of suicide might be worse than a similar wave that gripped the American heartland in the 1980s. 

"The farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression," said Jennifer Fahy, communications director with Farm Aid, a group founded in 1985 that advocates for farmers. Today, she said, "I think it's actually worse."

"We're hearing from farmers on our hotline that farmer stress is extremely high," Fahy said. "Every time there's more uncertainty around issues around the farm economy is another day of phones ringing off the hook."

Finances are probably the most pressing reason: Since 2013, farm income has been declining steadily according to the US Department of Agriculture. This year, the average farm is expected to earn 35% less than what it earned in 2013.

"Think about trying to live today on the income you had 15 years ago." That's how agriculture expert Chris Hurt describes the plight facing U.S. farmers today.

Farmers are at the mercy of extreme weather like hurricanes that threaten crops to agricultural commodity prices that have fallen below breakeven production levels. And prices will likely only continue to fall as America's trading partners slap tariffs on American agricultural products.

Of course, farmers aren't the only American professionals feeling squeezed. In New York City, local press has focused on a wave of cab driver suicides in recent months which have been largely blamed on the rise of ride-sharing apps, which have devalued cab drivers' medallions. Over the last five months, more than five New York City cabbies had committed suicide, blaming Uber for their financial troubles.