Our View: Stressed farmers have help available

April 16, 2019

A flooded home is a disaster. So is a flooded business.

A flooded farm is a dual disaster that can devastate a family’s home and its business.

That’s the reality for thousands of families in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota right now — and last week’s spring blizzard is only going to make things worse. Even when the water recedes, it will leave behind millions of tons of sand, debris and pollutants that will affect crop production in some areas for years to come.

The situation would be even worse without the assistance that farmers and farm communities have received from volunteers who fill sand bags, rescue threatened livestock, deliver feed for animals as well as humans, and other acts of kindness.

It’s the latest example that core values remain. It is seen time and time again when a fallen farmer’s last crop is harvested and when fire necessitates emergency livestock shelter.

The current floods, however, are shining new light on a problem that can’t be solved with sandbags and neighborly generosity.

A financial crisis, which has led some flooded farmers to say they can’t afford to rebuild, is stalking the countryside. Trade wars have taken a toll on commodity prices. Farm income is down, and interest rates on farm loans are rising.

Making matters worse is farmers’ hesitancy to seek help when financial stress pushes them toward an emotional crisis.

That reluctance must end. While Minnesota lawmakers work to find legislative help, one-on-one assistance to improve mental health already exists.

The Minnesota Farmer and Rural Help line exists for just that purpose. The help line operates around the clock so that farmers and rural residents can receive emotional, legal and financial advice.

It is sometimes easier to talk to a stranger than it is to discuss such matters with friends.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Rural Helpline is available 24-7 for anyone experiencing symptoms of stress or distress — including spouses or neighbors who are worried about someone, but don’t know how to approach them.

Those who call 833-600-2670 will speak with a counselor who is trained to ask questions and discuss the unique stresses seen in agriculture.

Callers are not required to offer any personal information beyond their first name and a callback number in case the call gets disconnected. Counselors are trained to direct callers to resources for assistance.

Their main objective is to listen, and then help farmers find solutions.

The national Farm Aid hotline, which is supported by funds generated from the annual outdoor concerts put on by musical stalwarts such as Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp each September, reports that the number of calls it receives has doubled in recent years as farm income fell from the highs seen earlier in the 21st century.

A bipartisan effort by Iowa Sen. Jodi Ernst and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin successfully pushed for money to address mental health issues in the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation includes $50 million over the next five years to address those issues in underserved rural areas. It’s not a lot of money, but it is a good start.

It is up to all of us to ensure that troubled people have access to the help they need to survive until financial conditions improve.