A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found agricultural workers have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation. To assist farmers in crisis, the Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST) Act would provide funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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 (FRSAN). FRSAN was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, but the program was never funded.
“Farming and ranching is a way of life in North Dakota – it’s a deep part of our culture and the backbone of our economy,” Heitkamp said. “But low commodity prices, natural disasters, and other challenges are a lot to juggle for a family farmer trying to make ends meet. We must end the stigma of talking about the stressful nature of this important work, and better support the folks who are juggling the challenges and responsibilities that comes with life on the farm. This bipartisan bill acknowledges the hard work our farmers and ranchers put in to keeping our economy strong and our nation fed, and would help them navigate tough times to become stronger and more resilient than ever.”
Heitkamp introduced the bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) along with Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Jerry Moran (R-KS).
The bill would also 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.
“Farmers and ranchers are among the hardest-working class of citizens. With net farm income plummeting more than 50 percent in the last six years, the job has become even tougher,” said Kenny Graner of Mandan, North Dakota, President of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) is intended to help ranching families in tough times overcome their challenges, and the FARMERS FIRST Act would provide critical funding for this program and other initiatives that support the mental health care needs of the agriculture community. The United States Cattlemen’s Association thanks Senator Heitkamp for her bipartisan work to support North Dakota producers and tackle these difficult issues. We look forward to working with Senator Heitkamp to address the underlying causes contributing to declining farm income and to advance policies that strengthen the bottom lines of U.S. cattle producers in the next Farm Bill.”
“The impact of farm stress on individuals and families often goes unnoticed until something tragic happens,” said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne. “There are a thousand things to worry about on a farm: uncertainty of weather and markets, input costs, yields, livestock, operating loans, the list goes on. Most of those factors are beyond a farmer’s or rancher’s control and are amplified in bad economic times. We lack so many critical services in rural America and access to adequate mental health care is at the top of the list. FARMERS FIRST is an important step in connecting farmers and their families with the services and help they need, no matter what the economic climate, and we thank Senator Heitkamp for recognizing the urgent need to tackle these issues and support North Dakota farmers.”
“Low commodity prices, drought conditions and other issues are putting farm and ranch families into higher levels of financial and personal stress,” said Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service family science specialist. “Farmers, ranchers and their families need to know that others are willing to stand with them and extend a hand of support or a listening ear. Family members or community members, including mental health workers, are seeking ways to provide needed support to farmers, ranchers and others in agriculture so they can do planning for the year ahead and negotiate any tasks that need to be accomplished. Resources to assist with such critical needs are scarce and help is needed.”
Click here for a list of farm and ranch stress resources from NDSU.
This bill has been endorsed by the National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, National Farm Medicine Center, Farm Aid, Female Farmer Project, National Rural Health Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Rural and Agricultural Council of America, and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Click here for statements of support for the FARMERS FIRST Act.