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MSU, Partners To Launch Website To Share Resources And Solutions For Farmers And Ranchers Under Stress

A group of individuals and organizations from across Montana, led by Montana State University Extension, are collaborating to provide resources and solutions for farmers and ranchers under stress.

“We know from various research that there is a high level of stress in life, specifically among farmers and ranchers in rural areas like Montana,” said Michelle Grocke, health and wellness specialist with MSU Extension and assistant professor in the MSU Department of Health and Human Development. Stress can be caused by a range of issues, she said, from commodity prices, weather and crop yield to debt load, passing a farm or ranch to the next generation, family issues, and injuries or illness. She added that it can lead to mental illness, increased risk of suicide and other health issues.

Now, a team of Montanans known as the Montana Farm/ Ranch Stress Prevention Advisory Council is working to create a new website that will host resources to help farmers, ranchers and other community members better understand the causes of stress — as well as how to manage it. The website is expected to launch this summer.

“Ultimately, we hope these resources will lessen the risk of mental illness and suicide among Montana’s farming and ranching communities,” Grocke said.

The website is a direct response to a need MSU Extension staff continue to hear about from people across the state, said Suzanne Stluka, associate director of MSU Extension.

“MSU Extension staff began to share tough stories of how chronic stress was impacting agriculture producers,” she said. “We knew we needed to do something.”

The team working on the website is composed of more than 20 members representing agricultural, health, tribal, veteran, local government and MSU communities. Project leaders are Grocke, Stluka and Alison Brennan, MSU Extension mental health specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development. In addition to the MSU Department of Health and Human Development and MSU Extension, partner organizations include Montana Farm Bureau, Custer County Commission, Garfield County Commission, Montana USDA Farm Service Agency, MSU Extension Local Government Center and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Grocke noted that an important component of the project is its accessibility: Individuals can access the resources anywhere there is an internet connection, whether it’s the library or their own homes.

The project is funded by a $32,737 grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation.

“We feel really grateful and excited that they felt this was of value for them to support,” Grocke said. “A lot of the projects this foundation supports are collaborative in nature, innovative and forward-looking. We were thrilled to have them think this is a project deserving of their funding.”

The advisory council hopes the resources and materials will spark discussions about the causes and effects of stress — and, in the process, remove stigma associated with the topic, according to Brennan. They also hope it will equip community members with evidence-based farm stress and mental wellness resources to assist them in managing their stress.

“There is, in fact, quite a lot of stigma still surrounding discussions about mental health, mental illness, mental disorders and suicide,” Brennan said. “My hope is that by providing a centralized location for relevant information running the gamut of topics — from plant diseases, weather and financial management, to stress management techniques, penhaver.

Delegates representing Montana included Jeri Copenhaver, Helena; Tyce Erickson, Dutton; Lilly Green, Great Falls; Kirby Hancock, Bozeman; Cory Kelly, Chester; Paul Neubauer, Havre; Maggie Shane, Floweree; Walter Schweitzer, Geyser; Will Downs, Molt; and Jan Tusick, Polson.

Each year, MFU takes a youth delegate to expose them to the policy making process and provide a voice for the next generation of ag leaders in Montana. Tyce Erickson served as the youth delegate and comments on his experience.

“I enjoyed the national Farmers Union convention in Georgia from the people to the sites,” said Erickson. “The convention was everything I thought it would be and then some. The policy meetings were entertaining with the debates and learning how other states differ from Montana. It is essential to stay involved with an agriculture organization to determine what is new and happening within the farming community. In total, I learned a lot about farmers around the nation and the importance of attending policy meetings, which help gives a voice to the agriculture community.

Member Sarah Rachor served on the national policy committee. She said it’s important to have representation from Montana at the national level.

“Serving on the 2020 National Farmers Union Policy Committee was a great experience,” said Rachor. “Montana does not always get a representative so I wanted to make sure all areas of our state had a say. There were plenty of interesting updates to our national policy after 2019, especially in regards to our safety net and how we as a nation help our farmers and ranchers in years of need. Plus Montana was able to remain at the forefront in industrial hemp policy to help shape this industry and any regulations needed by our producers and processors.” Farmers Union delegates approved the following six special orders for the coming year:

•Family Farming and 2019: A Most Challenging Year.

•Family Farming and the 2020 Election.

•Family Farming and Climate Change.

•Family Farming and Cooperatives.

•Family Farming and Dairy Policy Reform.

•Family Farming and Truth in Labeling and Promotion of Meat Products.

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