Title: The Effects of Collective Trauma on Iowa Farmers
Collective trauma refers to the psychological effects that are experienced by a group of people in response to a shared traumatic event. Farmers represent a unique population that is chronically exposed to traumatic events particular to the agricultural industry. Farming communities in Iowa have experienced the farm crisis of the 1980s, as well as decades of extreme weather events, rapidly fluctuating markets, trade wars, rising input costs, farm bankruptcies and foreclosures, and high rates of farmer suicides. Exposure to such events can potentially have dramatic effects on the people who experience them and the communities they live in. While research exists examining the behavioral health aspects of stress in farmers, no studies have examined the lived experiences of farmers within the framework of collective trauma. The proposed study will use both qualitative and quantitative methods in two phases to investigate how Iowa farmers perceive their own experiences of these potential types of collective trauma, and in particular how collective trauma may have affected their management decisions on their farms. Phase 1 will involve conducting in-depth, semi-structured interviews with approximately 30 farmers from five geographic regions in Iowa. The goal of these interviews will be to discuss the lived experiences of farmers to determine whether and how they have experienced collective trauma and how they feel this has affected their farming operations and rural communities. Interviews will also be conducted with behavioral health experts who have experience counseling farmers and farm families who have experienced stress and crisis. These interviews with experts will focus on their perspectives on the psychological aspects of how collective trauma affects farmers. Phase 2 will use the information gained from Phase 1 to develop a series of questions about collective trauma and farm management to be included in the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers conducted by Iowa State University. Analysis of the survey data will examine the relationships between experiences of collective trauma and farmer decisions regarding farm management and conservation practice use. The results from both Phase 1 and Phase 2 will be used to 1) develop trauma-informed policy recommendations that can help improve the lives of farmers who have experienced collective trauma, and 2) increase awareness among policymakers and conservation professionals who work with farmers regarding how such trauma can affect farmer management decisions and conservation adoption.
Project objectives from proposal:
Learning outcomes from this project include gaining a greater understanding and awareness of Iowa farmers’ perspectives on their experiences of collective trauma and how these experiences affect their farm management decisions, with a particular focus on how trauma-induced risk aversion affects conservation adoption. This will be accomplished using a combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses of data collected through in-depth interviews and a survey. Metrics for evaluating the success of these outcomes include conducting approximately 35 interviews, achieving a survey response rate of at least 30%, and completing the study within 24 months.
This knowledge will then inform the action outcomes of providing this information, along with trauma-informed policy recommendations, to policymakers, conservation professionals, and other researchers through conference presentations in the North Central Region, an Iowa State University Extension report, and two peer-reviewed journal articles. Metrics for evaluating the success of these outcomes include publishing two articles in journals with an impact factor of at least 2.5, presenting study results at a minimum of two conference sessions with at least 20 attendees each, and publishing one extension report that will be accessible via print and online options.
Although implementation and evaluation of long-term goals fall outside of this grant project, the information gained from this study will be critical for informing the long-term goals of helping to improving farmer and rural community mental/behavioral health as well as increasing conservation adoption through trauma-informed farm policy initiatives. The evaluation of these outcomes will be accomplished through potential future research projects.