Bennet, Baldwin, Ernst Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Mental Health Resources for Farmers, Rural Communities

Farmers’ Suicide Rate Is Three and a Half Times Higher Than The General Population

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Farmers First Act of 2023, legislation to address the mental health crisis in rural America and expand access to critical mental health support and resources for our nation’s farming and ranching communities.

The Farmers First Act of 2023 will reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (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 of 2023 would increase funding for the program, authorizing $15 million per year for the program for the next five years, up from $10 million.

“Colorado’s farmers and ranchers face uncertainty from forces beyond their control – from severe drought to a broken immigration system,” said Bennet. “This important bipartisan bill builds on our efforts in the 2018 Farm Bill to improve access to affordable mental health services in our rural and farming communities. Given all that our producers do for our country – providing the food, fuel, and fiber we rely on everyday – this is the least we can do for them.”

This funding comes as suicide, mental health challenges, and stress are on the rise in agricultural and rural communities. According to the National Rural Health Association, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times greater 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 Farmers First Act of 2023 would reauthorize the FRSAN and build on Bennet’s work to successfully include this program in the 2018 Farm Bill. Four regional centers established through FRSAN are currently increasing access to farm stress services including expanding access to hotlines, training Americans in rural areas to recognize the signs of depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation, and creating support groups for farmworkers. 

The Farmers First Act of 2023 increases funding available for the program to $15 million per year through 2028, allowing grantees to hire additional staff to support farmers, including behavioral health specialists to provide counseling to agricultural workers, and bolstering grantees’ efforts to address the unique needs of different farming populations, including Veteran farmers and farmers of color.

In addition to Bennet, Baldwin, and Ernst, this bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.); Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; John Boozman (R-Ark.), Ranking Member; Tina Smith (D-Minn.); Jerry Moran (R-Kan.); and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The Farmers First Act of 2023 is supported by the National Farmers Union, National Rural Health Association, National Milk Producers Federation, Agricultural Retailers Association, The National Council, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative, National Young Farmers Coalition, Organic Trade Association, American Psychological Association Services, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, Rural & Agriculture Council of America, NCBA CLUSA, Farm Credit Council, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Organic Farmers Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Soybean Association, FarmAid, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, Sustainable Food Policy Alliance (SFPA), National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Organic Coalition, Farmer Veteran Coalition, and American Farm Bureau Federation. 

A summary of the bill is available HERE. The text of the bill is available HERE