Washington Politics Adding To Mental Health Crisis Among Farmers

Farm equipment is parked in a field near Bakersfield, Calif., in a 2016 file photo. Congress is attempting to craft a new quadrennial farm bill that covers both agriculture programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Program, also known as food stamps.

Suicide rates among farmers are higher than any other profession in the United States and now some experts and Senators worry Washington politics could be making farmland stresses even worse.

The House is set to vote by Friday on a controversial farm bill that includes major changes to work requirements for people on food stamps. The issue is dividing Republicans and Democrats and threatens to undermine support for the bill in Washington. Now farmers fear the bill, which includes safety net programs to keep farmers in business in bad economic times, is at risk because of the unrelated fight.

Bob Worth, a soybean farmer in Minnesota, said the frustration is growing in rural America.

“It bothers me a lot that they can play games with other parts of the bill that has nothing to do with farming,” Worth said in an interview from inside his tractor while sowing soybeans on his farm. “We need the safety net, we need our exports, we need a lot of things that are created and somewhat destroyed in Washington, D.C. So yeah, it is a big concern for us what’s happening in Washington today.”

Economic stress and suicide are deeply personal issues for Worth, who runs a family farm with his son. He has personally seen the toll that low crop prices and an unstable future are taking on farmers.

Rates per 100,000 population

“I’ve had a couple of good friends that have taken their life,” Worth said in an interview from inside his tractor on planting day. “And it’s all financial.”

Worth said farmers are closely watching the news in hopes they’ll see signs that things will improve.

For the past several years, farmers have seen uncontrollable factors like droughts and storms and commodity prices threaten their livelihoods. In recent months, President Trump’s trade policies have added fears of a trade war with China, the loss of friendly trade agreements and instability around the farm bill to the list.

The string of political shifts have shaken farm country. Matt Purdue of the National Farmers Union say the instability comes at a time when farmers are already in crisis.

“Farmers and ranchers have highest rate of suicide by any occupational group,” Purdue said. “The rate of suicide is higher than veterans returning from war.”

Crop insurance struggles

Purdue and other experts say the farm…

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