Farm and ranch closures, land forfeitures, labor issues and more, are contributing factors to the high level of stress in rural communities. According to a 2015 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention – a full five years before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – rates of suicide in rural communities measured twice that of urban areas.
To address this problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is funding four regional farm and ranch stress assistance networks. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) is among more than 50 partners participating in the effort for the Southern region. LDAF has been awarded a $500,000 grant for this project.
The three-year, $7.2 million Southern region project will span 13 states and two U.S. territories, and is being coordinated by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Partner organizations, in addition to the LDAF, represent land-grant institutions to government agencies, commodity and lending groups, and non-profit organizations.
Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., praised the initiative saying, “This funding and partnership will bring much needed support to our Louisiana farmers and ranchers who have been tremendously affected by major hurricanes and the continued impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health should always be in the spotlight.”
The network will coordinate six specific strategies designed to help rural citizens and communities. These include establishing hotlines for immediate accessibility, developing a comprehensive website with information and resources to address individual situations, and curating and creating resources for the website.
The effort will establish training for representatives working within rural communities to support individuals through direct services or support groups. Research into how to alleviate farmer and rancher stress as well as the issues endemic to rural communities is also part of the effort.
“The most important asset of any farm operation is the health and wellness of the farmer,” said Commissioner Strain. “This project will provide resources to keep our farming and ranching communities mentally healthy while setting them up for future success.”