Dairy farmers mailed suicide prevention resources

Published: Feb. 8, 2018 at 12:39 AM EST
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Donald Pouliot has been working on his dairy farm in Westford for 44 years. He says it’s much different from when he started.

"When I grew up in Westford, there was probably 100 farms that shipped milk," said Pouliot, who is now the only dairy farmer who ships milk in Westford, a reflection of the unstable dairy industry in the Green Mountain State.

"Right now with the economic times the way they are, it's just as good as it can be," Pouliot said.

Pouliot is part of the Agri-Mark family of dairy farms. It also includes Cabot. When Agri-Mark paid their farmers at the beginning of February, the check included a letter that listed crisis hotlines with people to call if farmers are feeling financial stress, depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide.

"It was kind of shocking at first but the more and more I think about it, the shocking thing is the reason they felt they had to write it because the economic times are so rough," Pouliot said.

Agri-Mark says it is a real concern.

"Unfortunately, it is because there is so much stress on the farm. Milk prices in 2018 are expected to be lower than the last few years," said Doug DiMento from Agri-Mark.

DiMento says they've heard varying opinions about the letter from the thousands of farmers that are a part of the co-op. But the group stands by the decision to send it because they say several of their members have committed suicide due to financial stress.

"We are trying to be proactive and get out ahead of it. If it's one person or one family that can help start the discussion and prevent one bad event or a catastrophe on the farm, then we feel it was worth it sending the letter out," DiMento said.

Poiliot says Agri-Mark is doing what they can and he hopes other farmers like him remain positive.

"I hope everybody's all right, you know, it's kind of scary to see a letter like that. It must be a concern," said Pouliot.

The Agency of Agriculture has looked into issues that can assist dairy farmers and the industry here in Vermont. Those recommendations will be brought to Congress for the 2018 Farm Bill and will include suggestions on ways to enhance and stabilize the dairy industry. One of those examples is changing the labeling and marketing of plant-based beverages by removing the word milk from soy and almond milk.