Grassley Joins Tester Bill to Address Farmer Suicides as Farm & Mental Health Groups Praise Efforts

Senators’ Seeding Rural Resilience Act praised by state-wide and national farming and mental health organizations

As the only farmers currently serving in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are receiving praise from farm and mental health organizations across the country for the introduction of their Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which aims to curb the rising rate of farmer suicides in America.

“Rural America has a crisis on its hands—I see it in my community, and I see it in the small communities across Montana,” Tester said. “Lack of resources, stalled crop prices, isolation, and the stigma against receiving mental health care have caused more and more farmers to take their own lives. This bill is no silver bullet, but it puts us on track towards giving our farmers the resources they need so they can keep doing what they do best—feeding the world.”

“Farmers are increasingly feeling the pain of sinking commodity prices, devastating natural disasters and ongoing trade disruptions. That, coupled with the largely solitary nature of farming, has led more and more family farmers to desperation and feelings of hopelessness,” Grassley said. “This should not be the case. This bill continues important efforts to raise awareness about this issue and provide the assistance necessary to encourage farmers and their families during difficult times.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is 45 percent higher in rural America than in urban areas. Americans in rural communities face isolation, distance from basic health care services, lack of broadband access, stigmas against receiving counseling, and financial burdens due to stagnant crop prices. These factors cause higher rates of stress for American farmers and ranchers, making it even harder for people in rural communities to get by.

The Senators’ Seeding Rural Resilience Act aims to curb growing rates of suicide in rural America by implementing a voluntary stress management training program to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and National Resources Conservation Service employees; providing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture with $3 million to create a PSA campaign bringing awareness to the issue; and directing the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local, and nongovernmental stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

Tester and Grassley’s Seeding Rural Resilience Act has been applauded by farming and mental health organizations across the country:

“Farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people you’ll ever meet, but the pressures right now are enormous in this perfect storm of a down farm economy, volatile weather and the trade war,” said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. “We know from our research that financial challenges impact farmers’ state of mind. Farm Bureau commends Senators Tester and Grassley for addressing these challenges by introducing the Seeding Rural Resilience Act. This act will be instrumental in bringing mental health resources and awareness to rural communities.”

“The American Psychological Association supports the Seeding Rural Resilience Act intended to provide mental health resources to farmers and ranchers who are increasingly under pressure and facing the biggest farming crisis since the 1980s,” said American Psychological Association CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “Intense stress can have serious and lasting mental and physical health consequences. Agriculture is a complex profession that doesn’t provide vacation time, sick days or employee wellness programs. Addressing farmers’ and ranchers’ stress and mental health needs requires a multi-tiered effort. This legislation lays out a plan for federal, state, local and nongovernmental stakeholders to collaborate and identify ways to directly increase access to mental health services for farmers and ranchers.”

“NASDA appreciates Senators Tester and Grassley’s leadership on the Seeding Rural Resilience Act and looks forward to its passage,” said National Association of State Departments of Agriculture CEO Dr. Barb Glenn. “Often times, state departments of agriculture have the closest connection to farmers and their personal operations, compared to other governmental organizations. NASDA members hold these relationships with serious regard, and it’s because of these connections state departments of agriculture are better able to provide health and wellness services to farmers. NASDA also commends the bill’s focus on partnerships with health organizations and its commitment to focus on individual care. Our industry can be large and complex, however, farmers and ranchers are always the foundation. We’re encouraged Senators Tester and Grassley recognize and draw attention to this.

“Even in the best of times, farming is an incredibly high-stress occupation,” said Roger Johnson, National Farmers’ Union President. “But this year, extreme weather events, low commodity prices, and volatile export markets have made a difficult profession next to impossible and added to an already overwhelming need for more mental health resources in rural communities. We applaud Senators Tester and Grassley for introducing this important legislation, which will improve farmers’ and ranchers’ access to help when they need it.”

“It’s not an easily discussed topic in rural America, but it’s something more of us need to be talking about: mental health,” said Chris Skorupa, Vice President of Rural & Agricultural Council of America. “Our industry is almost five times more likely to commit suicide than any other trade. We need to be addressing the root of the problem – a struggling farm economy – but we also need to ensure the right mental health resources are readily available for those who seek them. RACA looks forward to continuing our work with Senator Tester to strengthen the bottom lines of our family farms and ranchers, while also providing much needed support and mental health resources in rural America.”

The legislation is also supported by the American Dairy Coalition, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Farm Aid, Female Farmer Project, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers’ Association, National Family Farm Coalition, National Sunflower Association, National Young Farmers Coalition, U.S. Canola Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, and the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Association.

Read the full text of the Seeding Rural Resilience Act HERE.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK, or 1-800-273-8255.