The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has been awarded $500,000 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), to help address farmer mental health and stress in the Commonwealth. The funding is part of a nearly $25 million investment to support Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network state department of agriculture projects.
“Significant strides in raising awareness of farmer stress and mental health in the Commonwealth have been made over the past few years. This funding will further that work and provide additional resources to support Virginia farmers and their families,” said Bettina Ring, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “Farming is physically demanding and long days working in solitude, low commodity prices, trade issues, increased debt, severe weather, accompanied with the impacts of the coronavirus all add a great deal of stress on agricultural producers.
In 2019, VDACS created the Farmer Stress Task Force, which consists of partners from agricultural and health-related organizations, as well as farm community members. The task force has worked to ensure that Virginia’s farmers understand the importance of caring for their mental health, while also providing the necessary tools and support to handle mental health issues and other crises that may occur, and help reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.
“This funding will expand and sustain our multifaceted approach to promoting mental health and stress awareness, aid in identifying available resources and partners, and broaden the availability of resources to reduce stress points in rural Virginia,” said Brad Copenhaver, Commissioner of VDACS. “We look forward to engaging existing partnerships and building new ones to address the stress and mental health challenges of producers, their families, and rural communities in Virginia.”
Stress-related mental health has been a rising concern for farm communities. USDA-NIFA introduced a competitive grants program, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, reauthorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, to support projects that provide stress assistance for people in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations. To receive NIFA funding, projects must initiate, expand, or sustain programs that provide professional agricultural behavioral health counseling and referral for other forms of assistance as necessary through farm telephone helplines and websites; training programs and workshops; support groups; and outreach services and activities.