The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Gwendolyne Honrud
Community Commentary 

CDC Retraction Leaves Questions About Farmer Suicide Rates


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month retracted an erroneous report on suicide rates that misclassified farmers as Triple-F workers, farming, fishing, and forestry, when the correct classification for farmers under federal guidelines is a management occupation. The study, Suicide Rates by Occupational Group -17 States, 2012, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, garnered much media attention regarding high suicide rates in the farming community.

While the study’s authors are currently reevaluating their original findings and assessing the study’s flaws, it appears, according to The New Food Economy, that agricultural workers, not farmers, had a high suicide rate.

The flawed study, and the ensuing headlines, have both failed the farming and ranching community. Initial focus on the rates of suicides of farmers glossed over the rates of agricultural workers, and the following retraction of the study has left many lingering questions over the true numbers and need for concern. An article in Mother Jones regarding the CDC’s retraction this month draws attention to the lack of current statistics available from the government. CDC spokeswoman Courtney Lenard told the publication that the CDC did not have any specific or up-to-date statistics and was unaware of any other data. In an email regarding the retraction of their story, the CDC told The New Food Economy reporters that “Suicide rates are higher in rural America than in urban America. Additionally, the gap in suicide rates between rural and urban areas grew steadily from 1999 to 2015. Individuals living and working in rural communities are at higher risk of suicide regardless of their occupation.”

Meanwhile, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), which was established in 2008, but never funded, is included in the Senate’s version of the farm bill, and calls for $10 million per year. The National Farmers Union is continuing to advocate for this service, despite the flawed data released by the CDC. A press release states, “Farming is a high-stress occupation. Financial risk, volatile markets, unpredictable weather, and heave workloads can all place a significant strain on a farmer or rancher’s mental and emotional well-being. Due to the prolonged downturn in the farm economy, many farmers are facing even greater stress.” Further, net farm incomes are expected to hit their lowest point since 2006 this year, according to the Department of Agriculture in February.

Farm Aid, in a statement earlier this month, said it has seen a 30 percent increase in calls to its Farmer Resource Network hotline (800-327-6243 available Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time) this year. Michael Rosmann, writing in The Prairie Star, notes that resistance to behavioral healthcare services among the “salt of the earth” farming community is declining, saying that the stigma about seeking help is diminishing, though the process of finding appropriate healthcare is still a daunting and difficult one.

In a state and an area so heavily dependent on, and rightly proud of, our vital farming and ranching services, we owe our farmers and ranchers the proper healthcare they deserve. We need to ask our Senators and Representative to ensure the FRSAN is included and funded this year and that services will be available to any and all who need them. Farmers and ranchers help keep us healthy. We should do the same for them.

Senator Steve Daines 202-224-2651 or 406-587-3446

Senator Jon Tester 202-224-2644 or 406-568-4450

Representative Greg Gianforte 202-225-5687


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