By Chris Christiaens

Who would have thought that designating a month to address mental health would be necessary? At this time of the year in agriculture most farmers are out on their farm equipment planting this year’s spring crops. The last few months have been hectic to say the least as commodity prices remain low and under parity once again. Over the past few years the incomes of farmers and ranchers has continued to decline forcing many hours of planning. This includes not only what to plant, but how to break even or stay in business.

Obviously the ongoing trade and tariff discussions have only been an additional concern for those who depend on farming to make a living for their family. There is wide concern that the ongoing tariff wars, and other countries stepping up to fill the import needs of other countries means that once lost the U.S. will need to work harder and longer in getting their lost trading partners back in place.It leads to the question of how secure will the future of imports and exports be? This is just one additional question that the producer needs to take into account when deciding what and how many acres will be planted in the current season.

With over production still sitting in the bin and operating loans being negotiated the worry and strain is just one more headache to face and overcome.There are so many factors that face a producer, whether a long time farmer or the beginning farmer hoping to make a living from their hard work. Some of those lead to high anxiety levels and mental health factors. Every passing year the commodity markets for the farmers products has gone even further down with producers changing their farming practices with diversity and attempting to make sure their operation can show a profit during a decline. Add this to conditions we have no control over such as the weather, economy, stress and isolation away from resources to address one’s mental health. The last thing the producer needs is adding more costs for getting help and addressing the challenges of Mental Health. An even bigger problem is that of recognizing the signs of a mental health condition by family members, and too often, the conditions which worsen over time are considered just another worry. In Montana, a large rural frontier state, our problems loom even more difficult as in many counties there are not providers available or long distances make it nearly impossible to get the professional help needed. The lack of resources whether financial or lack of providers has gotten more severe with cutbacks for mental health across the state, not just in rural Montana.

Resources are scarce and people need to reach out to family, neighbors and friends and for most this is a difficult thing to do in sharing anxiety and not knowing who or how to reach out for help. This has been long and difficult as mental health for many years was kept as a dark secret. While we have come a long way many are still reluctant to reach out for help.There is one ray of hope that occurred with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. In the bill 2 million dollars is earmarked for a grant based pilot program. This program is called the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network and was created in 2008, but never funded until this year.The money will be available to nonprofits who will decide what the programs will look like depending on the rural area covered. When faced with life-saving decisions consulting with a mental health provider can certainly be helpful. To learn more about the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network visit https://farmcrisis.nfu.org/take-action/.