The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Program connects farmers, ranchers and others with agriculture-related jobs to programs designed to combat stress.
The University of Florida/IFAS is one of more than 50 partners joining the effort in the Southeast.
Kendra Zamojski, family and consumer sciences regional specialized Extension agent, will lead the UF/IFAS team which encompasses Extension agents, economists, agriculture teachers and communicators.
“With University of Florida Extension being the land-grant university and arm of the Extension Service, we have agents in every county working, not only with farmers and growers and producers but also with the citizens in the counties. Florida has been pretty heavily impacted by hurricanes recently. We have seen the stress that farmers are under and wanted to be a part of this project to determine what the needs are and figure out strategies to address them and inform the research going forward,” Zamojski said.
She noted that according to a 2016 CDC report, the suicide rate among farmers, fishermen and forestry workers was the highest for all occupations. In 2015, a CDC report also showed suicide rates were higher, almost double, in rural regions compared to urban.
It is especially stressful for Florida producers, who have to deal with hurricanes every year and a COVID-19 pandemic this year that shut down restaurants in March. It took away a huge chunk of Florida’s vegetable and specialty crop business in the process.
“I live here in the Panhandle, so I know the stress from hurricanes that farmers face. Having been through (Hurricane) Michael and the devastation of that, I have definitely seen some of the stress first-hand. But now with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s definitely stress in how supply chains have changed,” Zamojski said.
UF/IFAS will also provide a financial planner to assist farmers with economic decisions.
“So much of it is economics. So on the team we have going forward with this grant, we do have a certified financial planner who will be helping us do some trainings with farmers on economic issues and planning that they can do in such an uncertain environment,” Zamojski said.
The three-year grant includes plans for a needs assessment; reaching out to the community and understanding what the needs are and tailoring resources to meet those needs. Trainings will be held for farmers and Ag students. A hotline will be established to provide immediate access for support.
“I think everybody’s feeling the stress of the pandemic right now but definitely our farmers. Not only on a daily basis where they have to deal with pests, disease and the challenges they face with their crops, but also 2020 was a pretty active hurricane season and weather season. There were a lot of impacts to agriculture from that. Throw in a pandemic and that has thrown our supply chains for a loop. I think 2020 has been a pretty stressful year,” Zamojski added.