State Legislature releases $200,000 for mental health program for farmers
Decision comes in wake of high suicide rates in agriculture industry, rural areas
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
MADISON – The Wisconsin Legislature’s finance committee voted unanimously last Wednesday to release $200,000 for programs that will help farmers struggling with mental health problems.
The funds will be used by state agriculture officials to provide farmers with vouchers they could use to get counseling, workshops to help them manage stress and develop new job skills, and workshops for mental health providers to teach them about the best ways to provide services to farmers.
The committee’s decision comes as discussions about mental health in the agriculture industry and rural areas in general become more widespread.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures have showed that workers in the farming, fishing and forestry industries have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, attributing the high numbers to sporadic access to mental health resources and lower income in rural areas compared to urban areas. Other factors include fluctuating crop and input prices, interest rates on land and loans, the weather and finding good laborers.
Declines in profits have also contributed to mental health issues in the farming industry. The National Agricultural Statistics Service found that in 2017, total statewide net cash farm income in Wisconsin declined 22% since 2012.
Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies, and has seen a nearly 25% decline in the number of dairy farms since 2014, when over 10,000 were in operation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state lost almost 700 farms in 2018, has lost 449 farms so far this year.