Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is sending a letter to the Florida congressional delegation, urging them to support a federal measure promoting mental health in rural communities.
“With Florida’s resilient farmers and crop diversity – from seasonal produce to cattle, and aquaculture to timber – the state of agriculture in Florida remains strong. However, the industry is faced with global challenges like unfair trade practices, intensifying natural disasters, a changing environment, threats from exotic pests and diseases, and harmful trade wars,” Fried writes in the letter.
“Due to these hardships affecting not only Floridians but farmers across the United States, the American Farm Bureau commissioned a nationwide Morning Consult poll last spring to survey farmer mental health. The findings were deeply troubling, with nearly half of rural adults reporting personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. Additionally, two in five rural adults surveyed believe that stress and mental health have become more of a problem in their community.”
The legislation Fried is supporting is called the “Seeding Rural Resilience Act.” It would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a campaign aimed at increasing public awareness surrounding farmers’ mental health.
The USDA would also create a task force to analyze the issue. Employees at agencies within the USDA would also undergo mental health training. That training, among other things, would help employees detect stress and signs of suicidal tendencies.
“I am honored to add my name to the list of supporters of the Seeding Resilience Act, and I hope you will do the same on behalf of Florida’s farmers, farm workers, and rural communities,” Fried writes to close her letter to the delegation.
“Together, we can increase resources for mental health services, decrease the stigma for those struggling with mental health challenges, and continue to keep Florida growing.”
Fried is the highest-ranking elected Democrat in state government. She added a statement Thursday as well, reiterating her support for the bill.
“There is a clear and urgent need to bolster mental health services for those in our agricultural and rural communities,” Fried said.
“I applaud the leadership of U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Chuck Grassley, along with U.S. Representatives Anthony Brindisi, Angie Craig, and John Katko for putting forth bipartisan, bicameral legislation to do just that.”
Tester, the Montana Senator who is the lead sponsor on the Senate version of the bill, also added a statement promotion the legislation.
“Rural America has a crisis on its hands — I see it in my community, and I see it in the small communities across Montana,” Tester said.
“Lack of resources, stalled crop prices, isolation, and the stigma against receiving mental health care have caused more and more farmers to take their own lives. This bill is no silver bullet, but it puts us on track towards giving our farmers the resources they need so they can keep doing what they do best — feeding the world.”