During the Reagan era family farms experienced a rapid demise with many farmers turning to suicide as a result of lost profits. There may once again be a muted epidemic of suicide occurring with the downfall of the economy.
The recent suicide of a New York State dairy farmer has drawn attention to the potential recurrence of this issue. The farmer, who raised 100 head of cattle, killed his 51 dairy cows he milked twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, before killing himself.
Though Dean Pierson reportedly had ‘personal issues’ in recent months, his suicide raises multiple questions, including whether the farmer felt an elevated pressure to produce. In early 2009, a Maine farmer hanged himself in his barn. More recently, two Maine farmers–one an organic dairy farmer–committed suicide; both shot and killed themselves.
In February of 2009 the price of milk dropped below $12 per 100 pounds for the first time since the 1970s. On average, it costs around $17 to produce 100 pounds of milk. Government subsidies have increased the price for 100 pounds to above $16; however, the costs of production are still high.
Dairy farms in the United States produce 21 billion gallons of milk per year, keeping dairy prices low due to excess production. The plummeting economies in the agriculture and dairy industries are a major contributing factor to the loss and misfortunes that can lead to suicide.
Suicide rates are augmented among farmers and also a global plague as Australia, India and Ghana report heightened instances of farmer suicide.
The economic burden placed on dairy farmers struggling to make a profit leaves farmers challenged with sustaining what is oftentimes multi generational family legacy under a tremendous responsibility. Some face significant debt with creditors.