Veterans Day 2020: What does it mean to be a veteran and a farmer?

DSC05739 CopyCourage is fear holding on a minute longer. -George S. Patton

Today, we take a moment to celebrate the veterans of our United States Armed Forces. This is something that we don’t take lightly at our office. Many of us have family who chose to serve our country and protect the freedoms we hold so dear.

However, this goes way beyond our own families and friends. Many of our Tractor Zoom users and Iron Comps customers are veterans, and we recognize them as well.

There’s definitely a connection between farming and military service, too.  As farming is a way of life – an identity, if you will, so is military service. Neither are easy occupations, yet for so many young men and women who choose to serve our country, it’s a very natural decision. Their granddad served, Dad served, and now it’s their turn. Oftentimes, the sense of duty is as much a part of their upbringing as the land the family farms.

But what happens when veterans come home?

For some, it’s as simple as climbing back into the tractor. For many others, though, it’s not. With the median age of American farmers being near 60, they’re starting to retire, but young farmers aren’t taking their place.  The number of entry level farmers has fallen by 30% in the past 30 years, and at this point, less than 1% of the population consider themselves full-time farmers.

Thus, the demand for farm hands isn’t as big as it once was, and with bankruptcies on the rise, there simply aren’t as many farms out there to go and work for.

Fortunately, there are a lot of programs that can lend assistance to veterans transitioning into civilian life. We’ve included a short list of places to start at the bottom of this post. Additionally, there are dozens more that provide real-deal hands-on training for every aspect of farm management too. Click here to read an article that takes a deeper look at what’s available. 

But, even for those veterans who are able to come back to a farming operation, it’s not always an easy transition back to civilian life. I’ve heard more than one of my soldier buddies talk about dealing with survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and all that goes along with that. The memories of what happened while they were serving don’t go away. While it’s probably possible to muffle it all when you’re feeding cattle, it’s harder to do it when you’re sitting in the cab of a tractor dragging a grain cart for 15 hours a day. A lot of farming is done in solitary. Thoughts can spiral out of control in situations like that.

On Monday, I met a veteran farmer who lives northwest of Toronto with one of those “spiraling out of control” stories (one of his cows literally saved him from taking his own life – read the whole story here). During the course of our conversation, he told me that one of the things that helped him the most was knowing that he had cows relying on him. He felt that they gave him purpose. He said, “Y’know, I really appreciated the way those cows always listened…”

I’m not trying to paint a depressing picture, folks. Truly, I’m not. I had intended this post to be a humble thank-you to the soldiers who have chosen to protect the freedoms we hold so dear. And while I still think it is, there is still a dark side that doesn’t get talked about enough. The stigma around mental health amongst soldiers and farmers is alarmingly similar…and nobody talks about it.

There is help available.

There are a lot of resources out there for mental health (I’ve included some below); however, one of the most important things you can do for a veteran farmer is to simply reach out to them. Chat up the guy who’s just getting started now that he’s home. Thank him for his service. Ask how he’s doing…and mean it when you ask.

At the end of the day, farmers going through tough times – veteran or not – just need someone to listen.

If this post makes you pick up the phone and check in on the veteran farmer down the road who you know had to sell part of his herd, maybe that helps him feel less alone. I’m confident that that connection you made is a far greater thank-you to all of our veterans than anything more that I could say.

Resources for Veterans:

Farmer Veteran Coalition: With over 20,000 veterans nationwide, FVC is the largest non-profit organization  in the US; their primary goal is helping vets get into ag-based careers. Membership is free, and comes with access to exclusive discounts from equipment suppliers and ag service providers.

Battleground to Breaking Ground: A Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service project, Battleground to Breaking Ground is built to enhance sustainability and increase the number of farms and ranches throughout the US. They offer a 3-phase training program that provides hands-on training and planning specifically geared towards veterans.

Veterans to Farmers: Headquartered in Colorado, Veterans to Farmers trains and mentors veterans, presenting them with an opportunity for “Second Service” – contributing to food insecurity at the local level. VTF is about to enter its 7th year training veterans in 2021.

Mission Continues: Based in St. Louis, Mission Continues is empowering veterans to continue their service in communities lacking in resources, putting their talents to work generating visible impact in the communities they serve.

Farmer Angel Network: Founded by a Wisconsin dairy farmer who’d just lost a farmer friend to suicide, FAN provides resources and promotes awareness for suicide in the agricultural field specifically in SW Wisconsin. They’re currently in sort of an infancy stage right now and don’t have a website built. The link will take you to their Facebook page.

Mission22: Mission22 is dedicated to healing veterans when they need it – right now. Through three major initiatives – funding treatment for PTSD & TBI, creating large-scale public memorials honoring veterans, and bringing awareness to veteran issues.

Honoring our veteran family members.

Colonel Ralph Orey US Marines
Colonel Ralph Orey
United States Marines
Corporal Darrell Bennigsdorf Marines
Corporal Darrell Bennigsdorf
United States Marines
Kenneth Hansen Air Force
Kenneth Hansen
United States Air Force
Lt Commander Doug Thompson US Navy
Lt. Commander Doug Thompson
United States Navy
Major Gavin Sandvig Iowa Army National Guard 3
Major Gavin Sandvig
Iowa Army National Guard

Finally, as a token of thanks, we’d like to offer our veteran farmers a 30% discount off of their first year of Iron Comps Insights. Use code ‘VETERAN’ at checkout. (We’d ask that you use this code on your honor. Please don’t steal valor.)