Production Agriculture and Stress

Pennsylvania Farm Scene

(Source: Penn State Ag Safety and Health)
Use the following format to cite this article:
Production agriculture and stress. (2021) Ag Safety and Health Community of Practice. Retrieved from

Farming and ranching can be stressful occupations, and that stress can have a multifaceted effect on a person. There are numerous uncontrollable factors, such as unpredictable weather, untimely equipment breakdowns, time constraints, and financial markets, that cause stress in the lives of farm families. Stress is  a physical response to perceived life-threatening events. In an evolutionary sense, it allows us to determine whether we should stop and fight or flee from an external threat. Our brains do not recognize the difference between psychological or physical threats, and therefore our bodies respond in the same fashion to something we perceive as negative, overwhelming, or threatening, irrespective of the real risk to physical well-being. Each person reacts differently to stress, but some common symptoms of chronic stress include changes in a person’s sleep patterns, fluctuation in a person’s weight, fatigue, restlessness, and physical health conditions such as headaches, ulcers, or high blood pressure. Besides the physical effects, stress can also hinder interpersonal relationships at work and home.

Chronic and uncontrolled stress can be detrimental to your health and interpersonal relationships. It might not be possible to get rid of the things causing stress in your life, but there are things you can do to help manage the stress. The following are some simple ways that a person can decrease stress:

  • Exercise: Many farmers feel that the physical labor that they do on the farm is enough, but having a regular exercise or stretching program provides a break in your daily routine, benefits your overall health, and provides a constructive way to relieve excess energy. Strive to exercise three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  • Caffeine: Reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet. By eliminating this stimulant, a person may have reduced headaches, increased relaxation, improved sleep, a calmer mood—and, counterintuitively, more energy.
  • Humor: The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t inaccurate—laughter might help to reduce your stress, so explore ways (social groups, books, and so on) to add some laughter to your life.
  • Talking: Having a strong network of friends and family can help provide necessary support during stressful times.  Make sure that you have a couple of people to whom you can vent your problems to help reduce built up stress.
  • Relaxation Techniques: There are simple relaxation techniques that can help you clear your mind and reduce tension. Techniques include deep breathing and taking mini-breaks during the day.
  • Sleep: If you are not getting enough sleep at night to be refreshed in the morning and energetic enough for the day, then you may need to consider a midday power nap.
  • Nutrition: Make sure that you are eating balanced meals throughout the day.
  • Breaks: Take some time from the stressful situation by going for a walk, spending some time alone, working on a hobby, meditating, and so on.

Getting Help

There are times when things get too difficult, and you might need professional help. Professional help can include your family physician or health care provider, a mental health professional, or a support group. Listed below are some signs that indicate that you should seek professional help:

  • Depression
  • Changed sleeping patterns
  • Abusive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Consideration of changes in your marital status
  • Inability to express positive feelings
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Feelings of guilt, isolation, panic, or being overwhelmed


For more detailed information, consult the following sources:

Use the following format to cite this article:

Production agriculture and stress. (2021) Ag Safety and Health Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Fetsch, R. (2011) Farming, ranching: Health hazard or opportunity? Colorado State University Extension. Retrieved from

Jolly, C. & Miller, L. (2004) Manage stress to increase farm safety. Safe Farm Promoting Agricultural Health and Safety – Iowa State University Extension. Retrieved from

Webster, J. and Gonzalez, M. (n.d.) Mental health and stress management. Agricultural Health and Safety Fact Sheet AHS-09. Utah State University Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Weigel, R. (n.d.) Identifying stress on the ranch and farm. Agricultural Producers and Stress. University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved from .

Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (has since retired)
Lorann Stallones, Colorado State University –
Randy R. Weigel, University of Wyoming (Has since retired)
Aaron Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

Behavioral Health Publications

Topic Titles Organization Pub Date
Agricultural Producers and Stress: Eating and Activity for Health and Pleasure University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Agricultural Producers and Stress: Finding Your Team of Experts University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Agricultural Producers and Stress: Identifying Stress on the Ranch and Farm University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Agricultural Producers and Stress: Learning to Relax University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Agricultural Producers and Stress: The Importance of a Healthy Attitude University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Agricultural Producers and Stress: When Do You Need a Counselor? University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
General Health for Farmers University of Maine Extension 2002
Manage Stress to Increase Farm Safety Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 2004
Managing Stress for a Healthy Heart The Ohio State University 2011
Personal Nature of Agriculture: Lenders and Angry Customers University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2001
Personal Nature of Agriculture: Men and Depression University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2002
Personal Nature of Agriculture: Recovering from Natural Disasters University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2000
Personal Nature of Agriculture: What Leads People to Kill Themselves? University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2007
Personal Nature of Agriculture: Surviving Tragedy University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension 2002
Primary Caregiver for a Farm Family The Ohio State University 2011
Resources for Rural Families Coping with Economic Stress and Anxiety Virginia Cooperative Extension 2009

Working with Senior Farmers and Ranchers

Use the following format to cite this article:

Working with senior farmers and ranchers. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Many farm and ranch operations are family owned and operated and include workers of all ages. As a result, older adults are more prevalent in production agriculture than in other occupations. Between 2002 and 2007, the average age of farm operators increased from 55.3 to 57.1, and the number of farm operators over the age of 75 increased by 20% (2007 Census of Agriculture). Senior farmers and ranchers can offer valuable insight and wisdom gained from their years of work experience. It is important to keep communication channels open with senior workers, provide necessary worksite accommodations, and implement changes to keep them safe.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), when it comes to work-related injuries, older workers are at a disadvantage compared to their younger counterparts because older workers are more susceptible to injuries and typically have a longer recuperation period (NIOSH, 2009). In an article in the October 2005 Monthly Labor Review, Samuel Meyer notes that in the period between 1995 and 2005, a farmer over the age of 55 was over 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal-injury incident involving tractors, equipment, or animals.

Senior farmers and ranchers are typically at a higher risk for work-related injuries and death due to the effects of the aging process. These effects can include:

  • reduced reaction time, balance, and strength;
  • changes in cognition levels;
  • decreased visual acuity; and
  • hearing loss.

These types of changes can affect the work that senior farmers and ranchers can safely complete. Agricultural producers and family members need to consider ways to make adjustments and modifications to better accommodate the needs of senior workers.

To decrease the risk of injury, those working with senior farmers and ranchers should take the following actions:

  • Vision Testing: Ask that senior workers have their vision tested regularly and abide by doctors’ recommendations regarding any driving restrictions.
  • Communication System: Keep a communication system, such as cell phones or two-way radios, available to senior workers at all times.
  • Fall Prevention: Take steps to reduce the risk of falls.

    • Increase the level of lighting in barns, shops, and other buildings. 
    • Clear walkways, add nonslip surfaces to walkways, and add steps and handrails to stairs and elevated equipment.
  • Medication: Encourage senior workers to consider whether prescription and over-the-counter medications could affect their ability to safely operate equipment and machinery. Ask them to check for any warnings on medication labels.
  • Rollover Protection: Make sure that all the primary tractors in the operation are equipped with rollover protection. (Click here for information about rollover protection rebate programs.) Consider trading in an older model tractor for a newer model that is equipped with better seating, accessibility, and rollover protection.
  • Rest and Fluids: Have senior workers take necessary rest breaks and encourage them to get ample sleep, especially during high-stress times of the year such as harvesting. Provide frequent opportunities for senior workers to drink plenty of fluids.
  • Health Conditions: Be aware that health conditions can cause changes in a worker’s ability to safely complete a farm task. Understand that limitations or worksite accommodations may be necessary for senior workers to remain in production agriculture. Ask senior workers to consult with their physicians about participating in programs of strength training, stretching, and cardiovascular exercise to maintain or improve health status.
  • Hearing: It is common for senior workers to have some level of hearing impairment that can make it difficult for them to hear warning signals and approaching animals and co-workers. Encourage senior workers to have their hearing checked by an audiologist to determine whether hearing aids are applicable to their work environment. Provide workers with any necessary hearing protection. Due to hearing impairments, the use of agricultural hand signals may be even more valuable to senior farmers and ranchers. Click here to learn more about hand signals used in production agriculture.
  • Tractor Operation and Driving: Ensure that each tractor in the operation is equipped with properly working lights, brakes, and fenders and that shields are in place. Limit tractor driving to daytime hours, and ask workers to avoid roadways that are heavily traveled. Ask senior workers to take a driving course to maintain and promote skills and safety knowledge related to driving.




Use the following format to cite this article:

Working with senior farmers and ranchers. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from



2007 Census of Agriculture: Demographics. (2007) United States Department of Agriculture, National Agriculture Statistics Service. Retrieved from

Funkenbusch, K. & Downs, W. (n.d.) Senior farmers at risk on the farm. Agricultural Safety Tips and Ideas. Retrieved from

Meyer, S. (2005) Fatal occupational injuries to older workers in farming. Monthly Labor  Review. Retrieved from

Murphy, D. (1994) Senior farmers and safety: How changing health affects risks of fatal injury. Extension Circular 147. The Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension. 

Occupational health disparities. (2009) National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved from


Reviewers, Contributors, and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri –
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Carla Wilhite, University of New Mexico –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –