In a profession plagued by long hours, stress and market instability, farmers aren't always sure where to turn when the demands of the job become overwhelming.
The state departments of health and agriculture launched a new initiative Friday to help tackle a rural mental health crisis that's led to an uptick in suicide among Minnesota farmers.
Starting next week, the agencies will team up to host a series of trainings throughout the state called safeTALK, aimed at teaching community members how to recognize someone with suicidal thoughts and how to connect them to intervention services.
"Unfortunately, farming communities experience more than their share of suicide," Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said. "We want people to know what they can do to help when they see warning signs."
The half-day training is geared toward farm workers as young as 15, as well as their friends and neighbors. It will be moderated by retired Col. Glen Bloomstrom, a longtime Army chaplain who specializes in suicide prevention.
Around the region, dairy farms have faced mounting pressures on all sides. Declining milk prices. An international trade war. Spring floods and threats of an early frost.
Production challenges have forced many small farming operations out of business altogether. In Minnesota, more than 1,100 dairy farmers have quit in the past six years.
Since 2000, more than 64,000 dairies with fewer than 200 cows have closed across the country. During that time, the number of mega-dairies — those with 1,000 or more cows — has more than doubled.
A new radio program and podcast called TransFARMation addresses those issues weekly. The collaborative series, sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and the Red River Farm Network, features personal stories of hardship and offers a message of hope.
"The impact of suicide goes beyond the individual person or even the immediate family, and affects entire communities," said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. "It's important for us to raise awareness about suicide and for us to share the fact that suicide is preventable, mental illness is treatable, and recovery is possible."
The Associated Press and staff writer Adam Belz contributed to this report. Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648