John Jensen

(Dan Gunderson/MPR News 2019)

Since in-person events for Extension have been canceled, my office has been busy working from home.

The amount of technical service calls I have gotten has roughly doubled compared to this time last year. Half are about home gardening questions, or invasive weed removal. While typical for mid-spring, they are hardly unusual, especially when so many are staying at home. Unfortunately, the other half are from farmers who are in dire need of help.

The 180-degree turn from one caller wondering about a good windbreak tree followed by another who may lose their livestock operation is disheartening. We have heard all the clichés from advertisements on TV, saying COVID-19 is part of an unprecedented, trying, or uncertain time. There really is no word that fits, least one fit for broadcast. Farmers are euthanizing thousands of animals, and commodity prices are stubbornly low again. Farm stress is high, just when things seemed to stabilize.

However, we have been blessed with a stellar planting season, and many folks are pitching in to help one another in Minnesota. Local processors are working overtime with limited space and equipment. People with a few acres are buying market hogs to raise at home to help area pork producers. Community members rural and urban are donating their time, PPE, or knitting facemasks for others.

My University of Minnesota Extension colleagues have also contributed. Our Swine Team is doing an incredible job providing resources for farmers dealing with depopulating large amounts of animals. Diane DeWitte, a former Le Sueur County Extension Educator who you may remember, is a key part of that group. Give their blog a visit (

All these things show who we Minnesotans are, but we also need to realize mental health is just as important as our physical health. Both are at risk right now.

Mental Health Specialists Monica McConkey (218-280-7785) and Ted Matthews (320-266-2390) are available for farm families at no cost and with no paperwork, just give them a call to talk.

The Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline is free, confidential, and available 24/7 to help connect you with resources. Relatives and friends concerned about a farmer are also encouraged to call 833-600-2670 x 1.

Free Farm Financial Counseling is available through Extension to help navigate a path forward. Call the Farm Information Line at 1-800-232-9077 to be connected to a local farm financial counselor. Many of these coaches are former lenders or agribusiness leaders and can help one-on-one.

UMN Extension also can assist with farm debt negotiations as well through the Farmer-Lender Mediation program. Call Mary Nell Preisler at 218-935-5785 or visit their website (

Finally, you can find more rural stress resources from either UMN Extension ( or the Minnesota Department of Agriculture ( As always, feel free to call our Le Sueur County office as well for any questions at 507-357-8230.

Shane Bugeja is the extension educator for Le Sueur and Blue Earth counties — Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

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