Farmers Union urges USDA to proactively address farm suicide crisis

Many farmers and ranchers are coping with alarming levels of stress, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should serve a critical role in providing support to farmers in crisis, according to the nation’s second largest general farm organization.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging the secretary to proactively address the farmer suicide crisis. Farmers and ranchers commit suicide at a rate five times that of the general population.

“Farming is a high-stress occupation,” said Johnson. “Due to the prolonged downturn in the farm economy, many farmers are facing even greater stress. USDA’s national reach uniquely positions the Department to assist farmers and ranchers during times of crisis. We urge you to leverage your vision for collaboration across USDA and the entire federal government to develop a response to the farm suicide crisis.”

Johnson noted that financial risk, volatile markets, unpredictable weather, social isolation and heavy workloads can all place significant strain on farmers’ and ranchers’ mental and emotional well-being. A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that farmers had a much higher rate of suicide than any other occupation. “This is exacerbated by the fact that 60 percent of rural residents live in areas that suffer from mental health professional shortages,” he noted.

Johnson highlighted USDA’s vast network, including more that 2,100 Farm Service Agency offices that interact with farmers and ranchers on a daily basis. He proposed several options for the USDA to address the farmer suicide crisis:

Develop and distribute training materials to help FSA field personnel better identify and respond to the signs of mental stress.

Provide guidance and best practices to Cooperative Extension Services for conducting trainings, workshops and webinars on recognizing and responding to the signs of mental stress.

Convene agricultural and rural stakeholders at the national, state and local levels to assess the causes of mental stress in farmers and ranchers, identify best practices in responding to that stress and leverage partnerships with nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies.

Farmers and ranchers who are coping with elevated levels of stress are encouraged to visit to find resources that can help during tough times.