May 15, 2004


 Guiding producer clients through crises


An extension livestock economist told members of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians that producers are as depressed as he has ever seen them. "1998 hit like a shock," said John Lawrence, PhD, of Iowa State University. They had good years in 2000 and 2001 but not in 1999 and 2002.

Dr. Lawrence spoke March 9 during the 35th annual meeting of the AASV in Des Moines, Iowa.

How can swine veterinarians help producers make the best long-term decisions? Producers are faced with the decision of whether to stay in business or start an exit strategy, Dr. Lawrence said. Those who stay the course must reduce costs and increase revenue. Reducing costs can involve rethinking the production and marketing process, refinancing long-term debt, reevaluating marketing methods, and networking.

Producers who decide not to continue in the pork industry can benefit from a planned exit, Dr. Lawrence said. A few options are performing only the minimal necessary repairs to facilities, selling or leasing facilities to another producer, or selling the inventory and becoming a contract producer.

Developing strong bonds with clients makes it all the more difficult for a veterinarian to witness them facing survival decisions. When Dr. Tom Wetzell accepted the 2004 Swine Practitioner-of-the-Year Award, it was a bittersweet moment as his thoughts ran to some struggling clients. "They truly have been an inspiration to me, to see how they deal with adversity in their lives on a day-to-day basis," he said.

Veterinarians can sometimes help clients deal with the emotional aspects of exiting the swine business, according to Margaret Van Ginkel, MS, who works with the Iowa Concern Hotline of the ISU Extension. "You may be one of the only people they'll open up to," Van Ginkel said.

Although they may not be financial analysts or psychotherapists, veterinarians can help if they are observant. They can be good listeners; watch for early signs of depression, substance abuse, or suicidal intent; affirm the client's values, skills, and self-worth; brainstorm solutions; and make referrals to mental health counselors, ministers, and hotlines.

For news coverage of the AASV meeting in Des Moines, see the May 1 JAVMA.