WSU Extension resources support ag workers’ mental health

A farmer standing in a dirt field while a tractor drives into the distance.
In Washington state, agricultural worker suicide rates are significantly higher than the national average. To address the concerning trend, WSU Extension is offering services, programming, and one-on-one financial counseling. Photo by Adobe Stock.

In Washington state, agricultural worker suicide rates are significantly higher than the national average. To address this concerning trend, Washington State University Extension is supporting the mental health of thousands of agricultural workers statewide through services, programming, and one-on-one financial counseling.

Ag sector anxieties often stem from rising prices, fluctuating markets, extreme weather events, and a nonstop farming schedule. Financial hardship causes the most stress for Washington farmers.

“Whether you own a couple of sheep or are farming more than 1,000 acres, the reality is that every farmer has financial struggles,” said Jon Paul Driver, a WSU Extension specialist with the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, whose work is grant-funded through the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Driver, who grew up farming — first dairy cows and now timothy and alfalfa hay — said he understands the challenges. His WSU degrees in agribusiness and economics and his industry experience working with Farm Credit Services and the Western Center for Risk Management have enabled him to effectively help farmers address financial stress head on.

Just this year, Driver has given dozens of presentations during industry events in production systems as varied as tree fruit, cattle, and wheat. More than 1,500 farmers have attended his presentations on topics including high interest rates, inflation, acquiring bank loans, creating enterprise budgets, and macroeconomic updates.

“The most important part of my presentation is letting farmers know that I’m available to help further,” he said.

Driver calculates that of every 100 people he presents to, about four will reach out for follow-up assistance. He has met with more than 150 farmers via one-on-one consultations so far this year.

“Extension is a recognized, high-quality brand in agriculture that allows me to be effective at these different levels,” he said. “When someone is overwhelmed with stress or anxiety that extends beyond finances, I’m able to refer them to other Extension programs or personnel. That’s part of Extension’s broad safety net approach.”

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