A drop in grain prices is making it tougher for grain farmers to pay rent on the land they lease. As a result, some overwhelmed grain farmers in the Midwest say that they are considering breaking their lease contracts.

Many rent payments come due on March 1. These payments can range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the farm.

For more than 10 years, grain farmers have enjoyed a boom, but that appears to be coming to end. John Deere has cut its profit forecast, blaming declining sales on the fact that farm income and grain prices are both down. Lower farm income and grain prices are further aggravated by the fact that other costs associated with farming have remained high.

There is little hope of a quick turnaround since grain prices aren’t predicted to rebound anytime soon. The U.S. dollar remains strong, leading to a decline in exports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that net farm income could be reduced by almost a third – to $74 billion – from its peak in 2013.

Currently, there is no way to tell exactly how many farmers will breach their leases. What is known is that a great deal of farmland is leased and is therefore at risk. USDA statistics show that 40 percent of farmland in the Midwest is leased.

It is unlikely that landowners will decide to reduce rent prices. This is because much farmland is rented out by retired farmers who rely on the income to live. There also has been a rise in realty investors who are unlikely to lower rent prices since that would negatively affect their profit margins.

Landowners and renters aren’t the only one who are likely to feel the squeeze from falling grain prices. Whenever there is weakness in one area of the farm economy, consolidation occurs. This leads to weakness in other parts of the farm economy with fewer elevators, machinery dealers, and the like.

Farmers list few options for meeting rent payments. One option is turning to bank loans. Operating loans for farmers rose 37 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Agricultural Finance Databook.

In the end, farmers who plan to walk away from their leases will face resistance. Landowners have made no secret of the fact that they will want their money and will go to court to make sure that they get it.

In the 1940s and 50s, despite the fact that tractors did not have cabs and there was no such thing as sunscreen, farmers were in many ways better protected than they are today from the sun’s damaging rays. Most farmers in those days wore light, long-sleeved shirts to protect themselves from the heat and bright sun. They also wore wide-brimmed straw hats to keep the sun off their neck and face. While all of these measures helped prevent skin cancer farmers did it for another reason – to keep cool.

Fast forward to today and the same methods that were used more than 50 years ago continue to make great sense. For instance, while today’s farmers prefer baseball hats, baseball hats do not protect the ears, nose, and neck as effectively as a wide-brimmed hat. Further, long-sleeved shirts and long pants – the normal outfit of yesterday’s farmers – are the best way to protect arms and legs against the sun’s harmful rays. This type of clothing actually keeps the body cooler than t-shirts, shorts, and baseball hats.

This information is particularly relevant given that farming is one of the most perilous jobs in the United States in terms of skin cancer risk. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the strongest and most damaging during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Since staying out of the sun during these hours is not possible for most farmers, it is important that preventative steps are taken. This is easier said than done, however, as continued research indicates that farmers do not take their risk of skin cancer as seriously as the general population. Given the time they spend outdoors it is easy to see why this attitude is extremely dangerous.

While no one would question why a farmer would resist being inside during peak daytime hours, there is no reason why they should bristle at protecting themselves with the proper clothing and applying sunscreen. However, less than one-fourth of U.S. farmers surveyed say that they use sunscreen. This statistic goes a long way toward explaining why the incidence of skin cancer is higher in farmers than the general population.

Education is one way to raise farmers’ awareness of skin cancer. To be effective, this education should point out that by ignoring the risks of skin cancer and delaying treatment, in most cases this will result in the need for increased medical intervention. This intervention is likely to keep farmers away from the farm for long periods of time – something they were trying to avoid in the first place.

A lot is being said lately about soil conservation farming. Soil conservation farming is a movement that supports leaving fields untilled and using soil-enhancing methods to revive degenerated land. Proponents of soil conservation farming claim that this method of farming minimizes erosion and encourages plant growth.

These proponents also claim that farmers that employ soil conservation farming methods will see an increase in profits because crops raised using this method grow and flourish even through periods of drought or flooding. While farmers have been known to be wary of new methods, soil conservation farming is gaining ground. Statistics show that over the last 10 years, roughly 35 percent of crops in the United States were raised using soil conservation methods and no-tillage acres have almost doubled since 2000.

Acres planted with cover crops is also on the rise, although the percentage of these crops is still relatively low. Cover crops – such as legumes – are rotated with cash crops and cover the soil all year, acting as green manure.

Soil conservation farming advocates claim that by leaving fields unplowed and using cover crops, which act as sinks for nitrogen and other nutrients, farmers are able to increase the percentage of organic matter in the soil. And soil with more organic matter can absorb and retain more water.

These methods of farming are growing in popularity among some farmers. These farmers list several reasons why they have employed soil conservation methods. These include the threat of government regulation over agricultural pollution, extreme weather, increasing production costs, and a shortage of labor.

But not everyone believes soil conservation farming will benefit farmers. Critics say the method is not practical for most farmers and is too expensive. They also say farmers who use this method have a difficult time controlling weeds, are limited on how early they can plant their crops, and that it is difficult to deal with the residue that is left behind when fields are not tilled.

One thing is for sure. Farmers who want to reap the benefits of soil conservation farming need to possess one important quality: patience. It can take years for soil to recover. For this reason, many farmers try it for a year or two and then give up. Farmers who have stuck with these methods say they have had to embrace trial and error as there is no exact formula that works for every crop or piece of land.

The average age of farmers in the United States has reached 58.3 years. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. Farming has always been a dangerous occupation and older farmers are at an increased risk.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that farmers over the age of 74 are twice as likely as younger farmers to die in a farming accident. Despite this fact, there are few safety programs targeting older farmers. In fact, most safety awareness programs have to do with keeping children safe on the farm. And federal grant money is much more available to farming programs that promote child safety awareness.

Tractor rollovers are the most frequent cause of fatal accidents in older farmers. In many cases, older farmers use older equipment that doesn’t have rollover protections or safety features available in newer models. Another contributing factor to tractor accidents is that reaction times in older farmers are slower so it is harder for them to manipulate machinery controls.

Many older farmers are more prone to falls, and there is an increased risk of sprains and strains because of decreased strength and flexibility. Older farmers also are less able to climb in and out of machinery because of reduced mobility.

One risk factor that goes largely unnoticed in older farmers, but is a major concern, is depression. Fifteen percent of all people over the age of 65 suffer from depression but that number can be significantly higher in rural areas where people are more isolated. Farmers – especially older ones – can be reluctant to talk about their feelings of sadness or hopelessness but it is important that they do so.

When farmers are depressed, they can lose focus on the dangerous tasks at hand, leading to accidents. When asked, older farmers list tough economic times, the loss of a spouse, family members being uninterested in taking over the farm, and a lack of retirement savings as stress factors that can lead to depression. If depression is left unchecked, the outcome can be deadly.

In order to keep older farmers safe and productive, it is important that farmers and their families recognize the many risk factors they face. It also is important that older farmers are willing to give up some of the more dangerous farming tasks as well as be realistic when it comes to their limitations.