by Senator Joni Ernst
If there’s one thing I know about Iowa farmers, it’s that they’re resilient.
Growing up on my family’s hog, corn and soybean farm in southwest Iowa, I’ve seen firsthand how tough our farmers are. They get the job done no matter what — through good times and bad. And that’s because they know how vital they are to our state and to our entire country.
From pork and dairy to eggs and ethanol, Iowa farmers quite literally feed and fuel the world. And during this coronavirus pandemic, we continue to rely on their hard work: keeping our grocery store shelves stocked and food on our tables.
But like so many other folks across Iowa, our ag community is facing trying times. With processing plants shuttering in the last few weeks and others temporarily closing, the situation has been difficult.
Support they need
In these tough times, it is absolutely critical our farmers get the support they need. That means financial support, but it also means support for their health and wellbeing, and in particular, their mental health.
Even before this pandemic, I’ve worked to bring this issue to light. Mental health struggles affect folks everywhere, including our ag community. I teamed up with my Democratic colleague, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, on a bill called the Farmers First Act. We knew that suicide rates among farmers were high and something had to be done to address this.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked hard to get support for this bill, and I was thrilled when we successfully included it in the 2018 Farm Bill — which was signed into law by President Trump. Through our bipartisan bill, now law, we’ve reestablished the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, created helplines and support groups, and provided suicide prevention training for farm advocates. Right here in Iowa we’ve seen two projects — AgriSafe and Farm and Ranch Wellness — receive resources to help find ways to provide mental health support to our state’s ag community.
Folks, we know that COVID-19 has brought even more challenges for our farmers. With a system designed for just-in-time delivery, temporary plant closures have turned Iowa’s pork industry on its head — causing many farmers to euthanize their hogs. Our ethanol plants are shuttering, and we’re traveling less due to social distancing, causing our biofuels producers to see even more losses.
I can keep going down the list — egg producers, dairy farmers, you name it. Everyone has been impacted.
Mental health support
As we work through these dark days, I’ve called on the administration to help us provide more mental health support. Our state partners, like Ag Secretary Mike Naig, have put in place a Resources Coordination Center specifically to help.
It’s imperative Iowa’s farmers, these hardworking men and women, have the support they need, both financially and mentally, during these challenging times. As we begin May, Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s critical we encourage those who are facing difficulties get the support they need. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help. Call the Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985.
Folks, you can always count on a farmer. But when our farmers need a helping hand, let’s make sure they can always count on us.