Reports deliver first-time data on farmer stress in Guam and Micronesia

Reports deliver first-time data on farmer stress in Guam and Micronesia

Reports deliver first-time data on farmer stress in Guam and Micronesia

Dr. Kuan-Ju Chen, an agricultural economist at the University of Guam and lead of the Farmer Focus Project, hands out agricultural stress surveys to Guam farmers in 2021.
Guam farmer Ernie Wusstig stands in his corn field in Dededo in 2021.
(From left) Partners of the Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Program: Dr. Kuan-Ju Chen, assistant professor and Farmer Focus Project lead, UOG; Dr. Theresa Koroivulaono, president, College of Micronesia-FSM; Don McMoran, project director, WRASAP; Julie Jesmer, program coordinator, WRASAP; and Steven Young-Uhk, extension director, College of Micronesia-FSM.

First-time data on farmer stress in Guam and the rest of the Mariana and Micronesian islands has been quantified in a set of reports released in June. The reports summarize the responses of 161 farm workers and 216 farmers in the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands and the freely associated Federated States of Micronesia regarding their largest stressors and areas they would most like to receive support.

Perceived Stress Score by Island Among Agricultural Workers

(Average PSS Score = 18.7)

Micronesia (unspecified) 20.7
Yap 19.6
American Samoa 19.4
Chuuk 19.4
Pohnpei 19.1
CNMI 18.7
Guam 18.5
Kosrae 16.3
Source: “Agricultural Worker Stress: Pacific Island Territories & Freely Associated States Report”

The National Violent Death Reporting System of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported in 2016 that farmers are one of five industry groups with the highest suicide rates, with 36 suicides per 100,000 workers.

To combat this statistic, Washington State University obtained a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to create the Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Program (WRASAP) and cultivate resilience among farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers in Western states and territories. The program is carried out in the Micronesian region through the Farmer Focus Project at the University of Guam.

“The perception is that farmers stay really calm and cool, but in actuality, our farmers are more stressed than that,” said Don McMoran, who first envisioned and now leads WRASAP as the Skagit County extension director at WSU. “I’ve seen it in my own community, and I wanted to be proactive in making sure that agriculture-related suicides do not happen anywhere.”

The two regional farm stress reports are based on surveys conducted by WRASAP and the extension programs at UOG, Northern Mariana College, and the College of Micronesia-FSM.

Of the 216 farm producers surveyed from May to October 2021, the majority — 69% in the Northern Mariana Islands and 80% in both Guam and the FSM — reported a medium level of stress. And 73% of farm workers across these islands, who were surveyed separately from December 2022 to March 2023, reported a medium level of stress. These percentages were calculated using the Perceived Stress Scale 10, or PSS-10, a commonly used psychological questionnaire.

Top Stressors of

Agricultural Workers

Guam Crop/plant disease
Pohnpei Grief
Chuuk Grief
Kosrae Crop/plant disease and financial worries
Yap Working in hot weather
Micronesia (unspecified) Long working hours
Source: “Agricultural Worker Stress: Pacific Island Territories & Freely Associated States Report”

“It is safe to say that folks in the ‘medium’ range could benefit from more positive coping skills in their toolbox, which can often include counseling,” said Dr. Michelle U. Grocke-Dewey, a health and wellness specialist with MSU Extension, who leads the data collection and reports for WRASAP. “Although PSS is by no means a diagnostic instrument, it does give us some insight into how individuals and perceiving their stressors as either manageable or unmanageable.”

Top stressors for Guam and Micronesia’s farmers

The top stressors among farm workers on the islands surveyed are grieving the death of a family member or friend, crop and plant diseases, and financial worries. For farmers/producers, the top stressors included production costs, weed and pest control, COVID-19, finances, and family — in particular, parenting.

“As a farmer, the stress I have is worrying about the growth of crops — if they are going to survive or not. […] Sometimes we lose most of our crops due to diseases or bacteria,” said Johsper Nedlick Jr., an agricultural technician in the hydroponics center at College of Micronesia-FSM.

Research from 2012 shows that higher levels on the PSS-10 have been associated with elevated markers of biological aging, higher cortisol levels, as well as suppressed immune function. Additional research shows that people who score higher on the PSS report sleeping fewer hours, skipping breakfast, and consuming greater quantities of alcohol.

Custom conferences for each island

To better cope with stress, farmers primarily indicated interest in educational content related to finances, succession and retirement planning, and career and relationship support. Farm workers were also interested in financial management education but additionally expressed interest in nutrition/cooking and physical activity.

Tony Sarapio
Sakau and pig farmer Tony Sarapio on his property in Pohnpei in June 2023.
In response to the survey results, the Farmer Focus Project at UOG will be holding educational conferences and trainings on a different island in the region every year. The first was held last year in Guam for some 100 farmers, farm workers, and agricultural professionals. A second conference was held in June this year on the island of Pohnpei in the FSM with 25 participants.

The conferences share take-home resources and tools, including hotline numbers for emergencies and websites with helpful resources, including, Utah State University’s Ag Wellness, and Sessions focus on the host island’s top interests and have included topics such as indigenous ways of coping with stress, writing and stretching for stress relief, and how to make healthier eating choices among locally available foods.

Additionally, 36 professionals who work with farmers in Guam and Pohnpei have been certified in Mental Health First Aid over a one-day training during the conference.

“It’s really helpful for us so we can identify if our clients are having stress in the field,” said Rickyes Ikin, who works directly with Pohnpei farmers as an assistant of the College of Micronesia-FSM extension program. “[Now], when we see the symptoms, we can ask what’s wrong and how we can help.”

“Farming is really high-risk work, and farmers do not really talk about their spirits too much, especially their stress level, so we really want to bring this awareness to our region,” said Dr. Kuan-Ju Chen, an agricultural economist at UOG and lead of the Farmer Focus Project.

The reports can be downloaded below or from For more information, residents may contact Dr. Kuan-Ju Chen at

Agricultural Worker Stress: Pacific Island Territories and Freely Associated States Report Agricultural Producer Stress: FSM Territory Report Agricultural Producer Stress: CNMI Territory Report Agricultural Producer Stress: Guam Territory Report
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