On April 19, Farm Aid was proud to join agriculture, rural, and mental health professional organizations representing millions of members across the country to urge Congress to continue full funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) in Fiscal Year 2023. We’re grateful to our partners at National Farmers Union and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture for their leadership on this effort.
The purpose of FRSAN, which was implemented following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, is to establish and fund a service provider network that connects individuals and their families engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs. Four regional centers were established with FRSAN funding and they coordinate efforts to serve the unique needs of their respective populations. These centers evaluate the needs in their regions, and then develop and implement training and services to address farm stress issues. Farm Aid is a member of two regional centers—the Northeast and the West. With FRSAN funding, Farm Aid has been able to increase the capacity of our hotline team (now made up of six members) to answer calls and emails from farmers, lengthen the hotline’s hours of operation, and broaden our outreach to a larger audience of farmers.
As the letter to Senate and House Agriculture Committee leaders states, a strong need remains for FRSAN funding and programming. A poll conducted in December 2021 found that during that calendar year, 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 stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased, it remains a factor, especially in agriculture. Over the past year, the majority of rural adults, farmers, and farm workers say there is at least some stigma around stress and mental health in their communities. Stigma can create barriers to seeking assistance, and programs like FRSAN are needed to help reduce stigma and increase access to services.
There are many reasons for ongoing farm stress and mental health challenges for farmers and farm workers, including volatility in the farm economy, the financial risk involved in agriculture, weather unpredictability, and a changing climate. Moreover, 60 percent of rural residents live in areas with mental health professional shortages. Ongoing funding is essential as the FRSAN regional centers continue to develop their networks and programming to serve populations where the need is great, and resources are often limited.
Farm Aid is honored to be part of this work, which has been part of our work 1985. Providing a listening ear and resources to farmers and ranchers is critical for the well-being of farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and all of us who participate in the farm and food system by eating.