The swollen Assiniboine River covers farmland along Grand Valley Road west of Brandon earlier this month. A Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services official says the volume of calls to the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line has increased since the initial flood and is expected to keep increasing.
More farmers are relying on the Manitoba Farm and Rural Stress Line as flooding continues to take its toll on fields and psyches in Westman.
An official with Manitoba Farm and Rural Support Services said the volume of calls has increased since the initial flood and she expects the numbers to grow once producers are given a chance to catch their breath and reflect on the damage.
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"When we hear from them, it’s often when push comes to shove and there is no one else," said Leanne, a counsellor with the organization who did not wish to give her last name.
"We will see it even more when things slow down," she said. "When the sandbagging stops or the harvest is in the bins, when it slows down, it gives them a chance to think about everything that has happened in the last three months."
One of the hardest parts for producers is dealing with the external factors, most of which are out of their control.
Like a prizefighter, Mother Nature continues to use farmers as a punching bag.
With very few tools at their disposal to duck and move from the water wallop, the battle to save the crop can often turn into mental warfare.
"When you lose control, you lose your balance," Leanne said.
She said it is a myth that opening up about those struggles makes a person weak.
In many cases, the stress line is the producers’ last line of defence.
"We are here," Leanne said. "We’re all farmers and you have to have walked the walk to understand what they are going through."
She said due to the emotional toll and availability of guns, farmers have a higher rate of suicide than many other careers.
In a report issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 169 people killed themselves in Manitoba in 2012.
Statistically speaking, it was men in rural areas of the province who had the highest rate of suicide. Men in rural Manitoba made up nearly half of the suicides among men, although they represent 36 per cent of the population.
Walter Finlay, who farms northeast of Souris, seeded less than one-third of his 2,900 acres this year.
Of the 850 acres he did seed, he estimates at least 20 per cent will be flooded out.
Finlay, who has farmed for more than four decades, said he has been down this road before and isn’t too stressed because he’s "established."
But he also recognizes a number of producers who are feeling the pinch.
"If you’re a young farmer with young kids or a farmer with kids that are going to university, it’s tough — and you have to get the money from somewhere."
It’s the third time in five years he’s had to deal with flooding.
In 2011, Finlay never seeded an acre. A year earlier, he only got two-thirds in the ground, only to lose some of that to overland flooding.
Since 1998, he said there has been consistently more and more water in the area.
"It’s a mess," Finlay said. "And there are very few who aren’t in this predicament. It’s going to hurt and with it happening so recently ... the farm programs that are designed to help us are not going to help at all, I don’t think."
For a long time, diversification was always the answer producers heard during bad years, but Finlay said it wouldn’t matter if you were in grain or livestock this year.
Most pasture is under water, limiting area for cattle to eat, and in many areas hay has been drowned out.
One silver lining is that many producers still have some grain in the bin from last year. However, getting to that grain to market — through mud-filled yards, over washed-out roads, to a railway that is still in service — is another challenge.
"It doesn’t make matters any better with grain prices going down, either," Finlay said.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 10, 2014