Note: Before addressing today’s important topic, I must explain my absence for the past few weeks. I am well but fatigued and I needed some time to take care of myself.

Increasing requests “snuck up on me” and I overworked during the past several months. I tried to respond to mounting inquiries from seriously distressed agricultural producers wanting help, from organizations to undertake workshops and deliver speeches, the media, and many other legitimate requests. As the requests became more than I could manage, I lost perspective.

When I unintentionally missed responding to some inquiries, I discovered that I have to turn down some requests even though they deserve reasonable responses. I will continue to give priority to stressed people engaged in agriculture who are seeking behavioral healthcare information and recommendations.

Thank you to all who have expressed concern and support. I extend special thanks to Senator Ernst, and to the other sponsors and their staff who oversaw the 2018 Farm Bill. Other key individuals have helped change awareness about farmers’ behavioral health, like Ginnie, Debbie, Matt, Audra, John, and others.

Dr. Mike is a psychologist/farmer who lives near Harlan, Iowa. Contact him at: [email protected]gbehavioralhealth.com.

A National Directory of Resources is needed for agricultural behavioral health services, farm business consultation, legal advice, and to address a broad range of issues. Behavioral health services must be A++++, that is: Attuned culturally to farmers, Available when needed, including during emergencies, Affordable so as to avoid adding to financial distress, and Accessible both geographically and linguistically.

The 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed in Congress and signed by President Trump in late December, helps address these needs.

The Farmers First Act, a part of the Farm Bill, authorizes $10M for each of the next five years to provide behavioral health counseling for financially and emotionally distressed farmers, ranchers, farm workers and laborers, and their families, along with other forms of assistance as necessary. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) cosponsored the Act with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

Representatives Tom Emmer (R, MN) and Collin Peterson (D, MN), sponsored a mostly similar measure in the House but without funding attached. During conferencing between both legislative branches about the Farm Bill, the sponsors and cosponsors laid aside political differences and found common ground for mental health supports for farmers and for other parts of the 2018 Farm Bill, leading to its final passage.

Senator Ernst recently wrote, “We will now be able to better address the incredibly high rate of suicide within the agricultural community and provide folks with critical mental health support and resources.”

Previous federal legislative efforts fell short when the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), was approved in the 2008 Farm Bill but was not funded. With funds now approved, they will be disbursed through a competitive grant application process administered by the USDA.

Like the FRSAN, the Farmers First Act drew on a 15-year, seven-state (WI, MN, ND, SD, NE, KS, and IA) effort called the Sowing the Seeds of Hope project, which the non-profit entity, AgriWellness Inc., administered. We had published many peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as reports in various farm magazines and newspapers.

Evaluation research of the program demonstrated how A++++ agricultural behavioral health services helped distressed people engaged in agriculture. The program was determined to be a best practice by federal agencies and the National Rural Health Association.

Farm crisis hotlines and follow-up counseling with licensed behavioral health professionals who were familiar with agriculture improved the lives of distressed farm families. Community workshops that brought town and farm people together, and workshops to enhance farm business management skills, legal advice, and to address many other issues, all were deemed useful.

Selecting behavioral health professionals and hotline responders who were familiar with farm culture and training in the unique cultural issues of farmers, ranchers, and farm workers were determined to be crucial as well. Additional research remains to be undertaken, however. The new Farm Bill and the establishment of a National Center for Agricultural Behavioral Health could move this new field along.

Over the past 18 months more than a dozen young professionals from several states and countries, have indicated their interest in agricultural behavioral health and how they can assist agricultural producers as part of their life’s work.

The group includes credentialed psychologists, social workers, and students in these professions, veterinarians and public health professionals. Most have farm backgrounds, are farmers themselves, or are married to farmers.

With help from staff at the National Farm Medicine Center and the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, plans are underway for this group of dedicated professionals to meet face-to-face, other than through email and phone calls, at the June 2019 conference of the International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health in Des Moines.

Stay tuned.