Putting Farmers First

Source: Wallace's Farmer

Senators introduce the Farmers First Act to provide mental health support for farmers, ranchers.

Two Midwestern senators have introduced a bill to provide the nation’s agricultural community with critical mental health support and resources.

The bill, Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times Act, also known as the Farmers First Act, was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

What would the legislation do?

The Farmers First Act would provide seed funding through USDA to state departments of agriculture, state extension services, and non-profits to:

  • establish helplines,
  • provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates,
  • create support groups,
  • reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network and provide $50 million in program funding.

In addition to these resources, the bill would:

  • establish a Farm and Ranch Stress Assessment Committee to better understand how agricultural workers’ mental health impacts rural development and
  • provide recommendations for addressing mental health care needs within the agriculture community.

“The Farmers First Act will make sure that when there is a crisis on the farm, farmers know they are not alone and there are resources available to help them find a path through tough times,” Baldwin said. “This bipartisan reform will provide funding for local resources and expand access to stress reduction strategies and suicide prevention programs that will help tackle this problem and save lives.”

“We must do more to ensure those who work tirelessly from sunrise to sundown to feed and fuel our world have access to the mental health resources and supports they need,” Ernst said.

Additional co-sponsors include Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Jerry Moran, R-KS, Michael Bennet, D-CO, and Cory Gardner, R-CO. The Farmers First Act also has growing support from more than ten agriculture-focused organizations.

What are supporters saying about the bill?

“Farmers are facing uncertain times and need adequate services to deal with this mounting stress in the industry. The resources provided by Sens. Baldwin, Ernst, Moran and Heitkamp’s Farmers First Act provide tools farmers need to manage these difficulties, allowing them to connect with all the resources at their disposal. I thank the Senators for introducing this vital legislation,” said National Corn Growers Association Executive Vice President Jon Doggett.

“The National Farm Medicine Center shares the goals of Farmers First Act co-sponsors in wanting to increase access to mental health care for the farm and ranch populations, who are subject to such unpredictable and unfavorable economic and environmental stressors,” said Josie Rudolphi, PhD, National Farm Medicine Center. 

“The continued slump in milk prices is creating both economic and emotional stress for dairy farmers, which is why we support the continuation of the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network and the Farmers First Act, sponsored by Sens. Baldwin and Ernst. We hope to see it move forward as part of the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Jim Mulhern, National Milk Producers Federation. 

“For those in rural areas seeking mental health services, they face two giant obstacles: availability and accessibility. In 55% of all American counties, most of which are rural, there is not a single psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network could help support agricultural workers and their families in rural communities by providing at-home resources for mental health services,” said Jessica Seigel, National Rural Health Association.

"With the current situation of farmers working below their cost of production, we are seeing a resurgence of financial and emotional stress and an increasing rate of farmer suicide, similar to the farm crisis of the 1980’s. There is a desperate need for the federal government to develop pricing formulas that insure farmers and farm workers have a living wage, since financial stress is the driving force in farmer depression and suicide. Re-establishing the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network can provide help for farmers who are suffering and contemplating suicide as their only way out,” said Jim Goodman, NFFC board president and organic dairy and beef farmer from Wonewoc, WI. 

“With net farm income cut in half over the last five years, rural stress levels are dangerously high. We cannot afford to lose one more farmer. This bill is a crucial first step to create a strong safety net for America’s family farmers,” said Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar.

“Farmers and ranchers are among the hardest-working class of citizens. With net farm income plummeting more than 50% in the last six years, the job has become even tougher. The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network is intended to help ranching families in tough times overcome their challenges,” said Kenny Graner, President, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. 

“This bill is not a means to an end, but rather, it provides for much needed resources and tools. RACA will continue working with Congress and the administration to promote policies that bolster the incomes of rural American families,” said Chris Skorupa, Vice President, Rural & Agriculture Council of America. 

“NASDA applauds the bipartisan introduction of this bill to help individuals deal with the extreme stresses facing agriculture by providing resources for tools like stress hotlines and web services,” said National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Dr. Barbara P. Glenn. “State departments of agriculture are on the front lines with producers helping tackle these issues and the FRSAN will create needed coordination of these efforts.” 

“Farming and ranching is a highly stressful occupation. As the downturn in the farm economy worsens, many producers are finding themselves in a state of crisis. The Farmers First Act would provide farmers with support they need to weather these tough times,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “NFU has long advocated for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, and we applaud the efforts of these Senators to expand the program and set a funding target.”