Could farm bill funding lower farmer suicides?

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WASHINGTON — Farmers and ranchers commit suicide at a rate five times that of the general population.

In an effort to address this crisis, National Farmers Union and a coalition of 36 prominent farm and rural advocacy groups are urging Congress to make mental health treatment more accessible to farmers through the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).

Letter

The groups sent a letter to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agriculture committees’ leadership, urging Congress to reauthorize FRSAN and to provide the program with adequate funding in the next Farm Bill.

“Financial risk, volatile markets, unpredictable weather, and heavy workloads can all place a significant strain on a farmer or rancher’s mental and emotional well-being. Due to the prolonged downturn in the farm economy, many farmers are facing even greater stress,” noted the groups.

The 2008 Farm Bill established FRSAN to provide grants to extension services and nonprofit organizations that offer stress assistance programs to individuals engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations.

Programs

Eligible programs include farm help lines and websites, community outreach and education, support groups, and home delivery of assistance.

Yet, “despite the growing need, FRSAN has never received funding, leaving many producers without access to important behavioral health services,” said the groups.

The groups pointed to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that revealed farmers had a much higher rate of suicide than any other occupation.

And mental health issues are exacerbated by the fact that 60 percent of rural residents live in areas that suffer from mental health professional shortages.

Economy

Net farm income has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2013, and current projections indicate the rebound could be years away.

In fact, the Economic Research Service recently forecast net farm income to drop another 6.7 percent in 2018, its lowest level since 2006.

Farmers in personal financial stress can visit FarmCrisis.NFU.org to find out what resources are available to them. Visitors to the website also have the ability to advocate for FRSAN by selecting “Take Action.”

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