Most of Main Street in Dexter, Iowa is closed forever. Fourth-generation farmer Barb Kalbach follows the drive to her husband Jim’s workshop.
“The emptying of rural Iowa is square mile by square mile,” she told CBS News.
Part of what she’s seeing is a big drop in small farms. Around 90% of small farms in the region have closed, unable to survive shrinking profits, climate change and factory farming, the Kalbachs told CBS News.
And it’s not just Iowa — more than 100,000 small farms have disappeared in America in the last two decades.
The Kalbachs have one of the few family farms in Dexter.
“The last 20 years have been awful,” Jim Kalbach told CBS News. “You must be very tall, or you might as well forget it. Five hundred acres is no longer enough – you need 5,000.”
Those who stay are barely holding on. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farmer suicide rates have increased by 40% in less than two decades.
That’s why the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has set up a hotline to help.
A Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline worker, Cre Larsen, told CBS News that her team makes about 30,000 calls annually.
“Some farmers call in the middle of the night,” added Larsen. “Two in the morning on their tractor trying to do the tillage because they know the seeding has to be done – ‘Can you just talk to me? Can you help me stay awake?’”
The most urgent calls are answered by Ted Matthews, who once led the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mental health response.
“They’re very shy on the first call,” Matthews told CBS News. “You’re not sure if you should have called.”
Matthews also said, “It’s overwhelming how difficult things are in farming,” adding, “There’s not a minute that a farmer doesn’t feel stressed. There is always something that could go wrong.”
Matthews said the number of farmer suicides in Minnesota has started to decline as more farmers call and connect.
“This idea that you have to get that bad to see a therapist is foolish,” Matthews said. “Why don’t you want to be healthier?”
If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
For more information on mental health care resources and support, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or via E-mail to info@ available. nami.org.