Ernst’s Bill Wins Mental Health Support and Resources for Iowa Agriculture

The senator’s bipartisan bill that was included in the Farm Bill is being implemented by USDA, providing resources for mental health services for Iowa’s farmers.

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)’s Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST) Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill, is being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This week it was announced that two Iowa projects will be receiving resources to help provide mental health support to Iowa’s agriculture community. 

“Iowa farmers work tirelessly from sunrise to sundown, in the rain and the shine, to feed and fuel the world. Their work isn’t easy, and mental health issues, including suicide, are becoming all too common in our agriculture community. It’s imperative our farmers and ranchers have access to mental health resources and support,” said Senator Joni Ernst, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. “That’s why I worked hard last year to make sure my bipartisan bill to provide these resources was included in the Farm Bill, and since then we’ve been working with USDA to implement these resources and make sure folks are getting access to the care they need. I’m thrilled to see Iowans benefit from this important work.”

Ernst’s bipartisan FARMERS FIRST Act provides seed funding through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to state departments of agriculture, state extension services, and non-profits to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, create support groups, and reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network.

The bill was supported by the American Soybean Association, Female Farmer Project, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farm Medicine Center, National Milk Producers Federation, National Rural Health Association, Rural and Agricultural Council of America, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

“The FARMERS FIRST Act in the 2018 Farm Bill is a focused effort aimed at improving the lives of farmers who work hard to feed the world.  Stressors in agriculture vary and the resources to assist in stress reduction should be innovative yet flexible at the state and local level. The AgriSafe Network is honored to lead a coalition of ten partner organizations from the southern states to respond to farmers, farmworkers and ranchers under stress,” said Natalie Roy, Executive Director of AgriSafe.

“Extension has a history of helping farmers with tough crop, livestock and farm management issues. They rely on us to connect them to research and information for sound decision-making. With the resources developed by the Farm and Ranch Wellness project, farmers and ranchers will also turn to us for stress assistance,” said John Lawrence, vice president for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.  “Sharing resources across eight North Central Region states creates a robust network of stress assistance programs.”

Iowa Awards:

AgriSafe Network, a national non-profit located in Peosta, Iowa, was awarded $480,000 in grant funds from NIFA for their grant application, which coalesces a group of partners in the southern region of the United States to form the Southern Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (S-FRSAN). The goal of the partnership is to deliver customized stress assistance services to the various agriculture populations across the region. Services are modeled off of a holistic approach to caring for the agricultural community by focusing on occupational hazards as well as individual, social and mental health components that may affect a farmer’s well-being.

Iowa State University’s project titled, Farm and Ranch Wellness, was also awarded $480,000 by NIFA, which seeks to develop an online resource database that connects farmers and ranchers to stress assistance programs, including stress hotlines and prescription drug abuse education to farmers, ranchers and their advocates located in the North Central Region.