The Farmers First Act is an important component of the farm bill that slid under most farmers’ radar. Through this program, State Departments of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension and nonprofits will receive funding to help develop programs to boost mental health in rural America.
“In Wisconsin I can tell you that…the stress level is just incredible, as it is throughout agriculture, but I see it a very pronounced in dairy, where we lost over 600 dairy farms, mostly small- and medium-sized last year,” Senator Tammi Baldwin (D-WI) who co-authored the bill told Chip Flory on AgriTalk.
The bill is to ensure farmers who are facing enormous stress have the ability to get the help they need and deserve, Baldwin said. In order to help get the bill passed, senators involved pushed to have it included in the farm bill and it was. However, Farmers First is one of many programs stuck in the “chaos” of a partial shutdown delaying implementation of the farm bill, she added.
Farmers on the show are grateful for the program and said mental health is something they see neighbors and friends struggling with.
“I think that we’re getting used to talking about this more in the farming world,” Dennis Bogaards, an Iowa farmer said. “My dad would have never talked about that. I know a couple of guys around me that have financial problems. One of them really struggled and was in some depression. He had a real tough time of what he went through. So, I think it's a very important topic and anything we can do to help out, including what the senator is doing, is great.”
Indiana farmer Don Lamb said nearly every farmer he knows is struggling with financial stress right now.
“We talked about it being financially stressful times and Wisconsin is going through really tough times, but we're all struggling with that on some level,” he said. “When you think about agriculture in general, there's a lot of stress - with the size of farms, with the liability that's out there now, with all the combativeness there seems to be at every turn [regarding] how you do things. When you talk about the question ‘What keeps you up at night?’ my first thought is almost always how I feel about what I'm doing. Do I really feel good about what I'm doing? Am I being responsible? I’ve got employees to take care of, so stress is a big thing and in agriculture, it always has been. But I think it's getting much bigger as we as we get bigger farms.”
The goal of the program is to give neighbors the resources to help their neighbors, according to Baldwin.
“This is something that has to be rejuvenated,” she said. “You know, we've done it before during times of crisis and we need to keep it up.”