Farmers and ranchers across the country are in distress. Plummeting farm incomes, market instability, extreme weather patterns, and a thin disaster safety net has pushed many to bankruptcy, foreclosure, and even suicide.
Farm Aid (an NSAC member) has seen a 109 percent increase in distressed farmer calls over the past year on their farmer hotline – the only national hotline targeting farmers in distress. And the first quarter of 2019 had a 93 percent vault in year-to-date calls. And while studies on farmer suicide rates differ, the same message rings clear: farmer-occupational suicide rates are significantly higher than that of the general U.S. population. Making matters worse, preventative mental health and behavioral services are often out of reach due to rural out-migration, affordability, and stigmas surrounding receiving therapy treatment.
Amidst this emerging crisis in farm country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced $2 million in funds to better support farmers in stress. In this initial year of funding, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) seeks to establish a network of organizations to connect farmers and ranchers, along with farmworkers, to stress assistance programs and resources across the country. FRSAN is a competitive grant program and administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). More details on this funding opportunity are outlined further below.
Applications are due on July 25, 2019 at 5 pm EST.
Organizations already addressing farm stress, and who played a foundational role advocating for FRSAN – such as Farm Aid, Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA (RAFI), National Farmers Union (NFU), and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) – are doing all they can to fill in the gaps, but resources are stretched too thin.
While no silver bullet, this new resource is a small but important step in responding to the urgency of stress in farm country. However, it is nonetheless imperative to also develop longer-term policy solutions that respond to the root causes of this stress and ultimately build a more resilient food and farm system that can withstand disruptions that will undoubtedly continue into the future.
Although originally authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, FRSAN only first received funding this year. Authorized to received up to $10 million per year, Congress provided $2 million in initial grant funding for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. With limited funding this first year, the 2019 pilot program will utilize a collaborative, regional network approach.
The goals for the first year of funding are to:
- Establish a diverse, regionally-representative network of member organizations;
- Develop a clearinghouse of farmer assistance programs in each region; and
- Educate teams in each regions about existing resources in responding to farmers in stress.
Funding in additional years will provide more direct support on the ground to network partners in expanding services.
NIFA is seeking applications from regional partnerships and collaborations that are led by or include nongovernmental organizations, state departments of agriculture, Cooperative Extension Services, and Indian tribes with expertise in providing professional agricultural behavioral health awareness, counseling as appropriate, education, training, and referral for other forms of assistance as necessary.
All applicants must be working in regional partnerships (networks) composed of three or more separately operated, domestic, public or private entities, including a lead applicant organization. Members may be involved in more than one applicant network; however, they may only be the lead applicant for one proposal. For entities wishing to be associated in more than one geographic region (see the below table), they must demonstrate the capacity to meet the responsibilities that come with their multiple regional associations.
Applicant teams are encouraged to identify and map the already existing resources in their region, which may include:
- Farm crisis helplines and websites
- Farm stress training programs and/or workshops
- Support groups
- Therapy services
Once a regional network is mapped, a regional clearinghouse could be formed by training state-level employees to appropriately refer farmers to services within the network, ultimately connecting and increasing farmer and rancher access to those services.
Networks may be comprised of urban and rurally located members, but at least two network members must be currently serving USDA’s Economic Research Services (ERS) designated rural counties or rural census tracts within urban counties. To determine the location of a certain member, refer to the USDA-ERS Rural-Urban Continuum Codes. Further, proposals must center their services in one of the four regions listed in Table 1; although, the RFA provides no guidance on how many states must be involved actively involved within a region.
NIFA intends to grant four awards (one per region), on a twelve-month project term, which starts on September 1, 2019.
Proposal budgets are not to exceed $488,000, including indirect costs. Indirect costs are limited to 30 percent of total federal funds, or an otherwise negotiated rate, within the budget. Matching resources are not required for proposals, and NIFA will not factor any matching resources during the review process. If additional funding is provided in future years, USDA will solicit stakeholder input to decide on how to best scale projects, and increase outcome services.
How to Apply
Interested applicants should visit NIFA’s FRSAN website to access the Request for Applications (RFA) and application portal. Applications must be submitted through www.grants.gov by July 25, 2019 at 5 pm EST.
More information on FRSAN: