U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and a bipartisan group of colleagues have introduced the Farmers First Act of 2023 to expand mental health services access for agricultural producers.
The Farmers First Act of 2023 would reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which connects farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers with mental health assistance programs and resources.
"Arkansas agricultural producers help feed and clothe the world," Boozman said in a news release Friday.
"This responsibility creates unique stresses as they manage operations and face challenges that are often beyond their control. This legislation continues efforts to improve access to mental health services in rural communities and creates additional opportunities to connect agriculture workers and producers with behavioral health providers to enhance the quality of life for families and individuals throughout farm country."
The rate of suicide for farmers is 3½ times higher than the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association; 61% of farmers and farm workers and 52% of rural adults also reported experiencing more stress and mental health concerns in 2021 compared to the year prior, per a Morning Consult poll.
The poll found that while stigma related to seeking mental health assistance has gone down, it's still a factor in agricultural communities.
The legislation would increase available funding for the network to $15 million per fiscal year through 2028.
The 2018 farm bill included initiatives to improve rural mental health resources and expand suicide prevention programs in rural communities but this legislation would build upon such programming.
State departments of agriculture, state extension services and nonprofit organizations would receive funding to start helplines, offer suicide prevention training for farm advocates and establish support groups for agricultural workers.
Boozman, who is ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, added a provision to the reauthorization measure to enhance connections between FRSAN grantees and behavioral health medical providers like health centers, rural health clinics, critical access hospitals and certified community behavioral health clinics.
The legislation is led by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa., co-sponsored by committee chairwoman, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and a bipartisan group of senators.
Support for continuing and increased funding for the network is supported by the American Psychological Association Services and a number of agricultural organizations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Young Farmers Coalition and more.
The committee has held multiple hearings this year and is currently in the process of writing the next farm bill, which is reauthorized by Congress every five years.