“Death by a Thousand Cuts”: Agriculture Producer Resiliency in the Western United States


Objective: Agricultural producers face a wide array of stress triggers, shocks, and long-term pressures such as drought, flooding, fire, government policies, financial insecurity, and physical injuries. Extant research has revealed that mental health stigma, lack of access to care in rural areas, and negative coping responses (alcohol abuse, suicide, prescription drugs use) exacerbate the challenge of producer responses to short and long-term adversity. Resilience, the traits, processes, and capacities of producers to adapt and transform their approach to farming or ranching, when necessary, in response to stress triggers or long-term pressures, has received less research attention, particularly in the Western United States. The purpose of the study was to apply an interactionist occupational resilience theoretical perspective to the investigation of contextual factors contributing to resilience in Western United States agricultural producers. Methods: Qualitative interviews (45 to 90 minutes) were conducted with agricultural producers (n=51) from Western states and territories. Applied thematic analysis with a phenomenological lens was utilized to analyze interview transcriptions. First and second level coding were conducted to derive themes. Results: The analysis revealed that resilience is based upon the interactions between traits of producers and the context of agriculture. Four themes were generated (Agricultural Life, External Stressors, Traits and Adaptations, and Supports and Resources), supported by subthemes. The themes and subthemes are depicted in an agricultural producer resiliency model. The findings shed light on the equivocal role of neighbors in providing support for each other and the double- edged sword of co-working with family. Conclusions: The findings underscore that social capital is an important mechanism for supporting farmers and ranchers, as those with stronger social resources are more resilient. We recommend more funding to tailor stress and mental health programming to the specifics of agriculture, integration of behavioral health in primary care as a mechanism to increase access to care, and more intentional technical assistance for farmers and ranchers on strategic planning and problem solving.



agricultural resilience, farmer and rancher resiliency, agricultural stress, qualitative thematic analysis


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