The bipartisan Farmers First Act of 2023 was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), increase program funding levels and connect farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with stress assistance programs and resources.
Montana Senator Jon Tester was joined in sponsoring the legislation by Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich) Ranking Member John Boozman, (R-Ark), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Tina Smith (D-MN); Jerry Moran (R-KS); Susan Collins (R-ME); and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
“As a third generation Montana farmer, I know how stressful production ag can be – and getting producers the mental health resources they need is critical to keeping our rural communities strong,” said Tester. “Family farming and ranching is often a challenging and isolating business, so when conditions turn sour or a crop gets wiped out, it’s important that folks in production ag have somewhere to turn. By reauthorizing the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network we’ll ensure that folks have access to life saving resources and are able to manage the stress that comes with production ag.”
The Farmers First Act will reauthorize FRSAN, a program that connects farmers, ranchers, and other agriculture workers to stress assistance programs and resources. Through FRSAN, state departments of agriculture, state extension services, and non-profits receive funding to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, and create support groups for farmers and farm workers. The Farmers First Act would increase funding for the program, authorizing $15 million per year for the program for the next five years, up from $10 million.
According to the National Rural Health Association, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times higher than among the general population. A Morning Consult poll found that during 2021, most farmers and farm workers (61%) and rural adults (52%) reported experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to the prior year. The same poll also found that while the stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased, it remains a factor, especially in agriculture.
The National Farmers Union endorsed the bill with President Rob Larew commenting that, ““Farming is a highly stressful occupation and rural areas suffer from significant mental health professional shortages,” NFU President Rob Larew said. “The Farmers First Act will help connect our communities with essential support and services to address farm stress and improve wellbeing. We thank Senators Baldwin and Ernst for their leadership on this issue and we urge Congress to reauthorize FRSAN with increased funding in the next farm bill.”
Sen. Jon Tester/NFU