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AG CRISIS: A piece of the recently passed 2018 Farm Bill is something called the FARMERS FIRST act, legislation that establishes a funding mechanism to provide resources for creating response to mental health crises as the farm financial crisis deepens.

Catchy acronym hides grim reality behind piece of 2018 Farm Bill

When financial crisis hits farms, it is about more than a business success or failure issue.

In an office somewhere in Washington, D.C., there has to be a cadre of wordsmiths working on one of the most challenging aspects of federal legislation: How to come up with a name for a bill that will make a catchy, memorable word or phrase when turned into alphabet soup, which seems to happen to absolutely everything connected to government.

I was especially intrigued recently to read about FARMERS FIRST, a piece of legislation championed by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

The full title of the legislation, which is part of the newly signed 2018 Farm Bill, is the “Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times” Act.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of effort went into coming up with the words that would create the acronym. It isn’t perfect, of course. To make it work you have to skip the first “for,” make “Mental Health” into one word, skip the “and” conjunction and give full status to the second “for.” Still, it’s a pretty remarkable bit of naming.

Thinking about it in terms of linguistics is perhaps just a coping mechanism, however, because the need behind the creation of the program is pretty grim. It is basically a recognition that the ongoing financial crisis on America’s farms and ranches is taking a big toll on the people who are trying to figure out how to hold on through times that seem to be getting harder and harder.

What the legislation does is establish seed funding for crisis help lines, and suicide prevention training for farm advocates and mental health workers.

Money from USDA will go to state departments of agriculture, state extension services, Native American tribes and non-profits to provide essential services and create support groups.

In addition to these resources, the language will establish a Farm and Ranch Stress Assessment Committee to better understand how agricultural workers’ mental health impacts rural development and provide recommendations for addressing mental health care needs within the agriculture community.

The crisis being addressed leaves no room for levity.

I’ve talked to a number of urban friends who are mystified by the deep toll a financial crisis not of their own making takes on America’s farmers.

“Everybody in business knows that sometimes factors beyond your control mean you go under,” one of them said. “You file bankruptcy, you move on, you start over.”

And yes, for most urban businesses that is true — you may have poured your heart and soul into starting a business, but at the end of the day it was your business, not your life. And if it doesn’t work, you try something else.

That’s not true of agriculture. It’s not just a business. It’s a way of life, an inheritance. It’s a legacy that you have understood since childhood, one that is being passed to you with the understanding that you will prepare the next generation and pass it on to them.

At a recent farm convention, one of the speakers started his presentation with these words: “Good morning. I’m the idiot who lost the fourth-generation family farm. I almost killed myself the night of the auction. But I didn’t, and neither should you.”

He went on to talk about the intervention from his Farm Management Agency adviser that saved his life. He talked about moving on to the next chapter and admitted that 30 years later, he still can’t bring himself to drive past the farmstead where he grew up, where he brought his babies home from the hospital; past the barn where he pulled his first calf; past the silo that was his first bulldozer project. He doesn’t know what’s still there, and he’d rather not know than see something too painful to deal with. Let’s be clear. He may have gotten past suicidal, but he’s nowhere near “over it.”

Most of the people currently in crisis won’t get over it, either. Which leads me to a final wordsmith suggestion. I’ve come up with the name that meets the acronym. I want someone, anyone to come up with legislation for it.

Here it is FARMERS FIRST:

Facing Amazing Revelations that Markets Engineer Resilience and Supply while Farmers Inspire Reasonable, Sustainable Trade agreements. Go for it, legislators.

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