The Montana Department of Agriculture will use a $500,000 federal grant to help producers deal with the stress caused by drought, the pandemic and other problems.
The state secured the funds from the USDA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to prioritize mental health for producers, Chelsi Bay, public relations specialist for the Montana Department of Agriculture, said.
Development of the program continues, but it will include working with agricultural organizations and communities to help pay for speakers, workshops and training centered around mental health. The department will seek Montana mental health providers to participate in the program to make it Montana specific and focused, she said.
After the growing season, industry conventions will be held where they can take advantage of group settings and networking to get the word out.
The Department of Agriculture works with industry partners like the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Grain Growers and Montana Stockgrowers Association because they are member focused, Bay said. Bay said the department wants to roll out this first portion aimed at ag organizations and workshops, training speakers because the organizations are planning for fall and winter conventions.
“The other will come in the form of vouchers for Montana ag producers or folks involved in ag to use for free, confidential counseling. And we aim for that to be either in person or telehealth,” Bay said.
The state faces a challenge to find health care providers, especially the east side of the state. Telehealth will be an important part of the program, she said.
“Our hope is that all the providers will be based in Montana, and ideally connected to those rural communities in some way,” Bay said.
The third and final part of the program is working on destigmatizing mental health issues. The work will include recognizing the different stressors that go into ag work with the drought foremost.
“It’s been a really difficult growing year,” she said, so the grant funds will be used to try to normalize reaching out for help.
A program already in place is the Montana Ag Producer Stress Resource Clearinghouse through Montana State University. It offers free help in identifying stress, how to measure and manage stress and ways for an ag producer to find assistance or help a family member.
The Department of Agriculture also will collaborate with the Western Regional Ag Stress Assistance Program, which was formed to actively discuss agriculture-related stress and the importance to meet this growing need for support.
This article was originally posted on Montana ag producers getting help with stress during ‘really difficult growing year’