UK part of regional group working to reduce farmer stress

October 13, 2020

University of Kentucky researchers are joining scientists from across the South to find ways to reduce farmers’ stress. Photo by Matt Barton, UK agricultural communications.

By: Katie Pratt

Unprecedented times have unleashed an enormous amount of new and unique stressors on American farm families. To help producers and their families better deal with stressful events, researchers in the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and College of Nursing have joined other scientists from across the South to develop resources to help producers combat stress.

“With all of the changes going on in the world right now, we want to make sure farm families have the resources they need to successfully work through these stressful situations,” said Tony Pescatore, extension professor in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Producers find themselves not only facing financially stressful situations with market fluctuations that have been enhanced by COVID-19, but they also face emotional stressors related to their ties to their animals, if they are forced to reduce their herd.”

Pescatore and Jennifer Hunter, UK extension professor of family and consumer sciences, are co-investigators on a three-year, $7.2 million grant the University of Tennessee received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of their Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. For their part of the grant, UK faculty and staff will conduct an analysis of current available mental health resources in Kentucky and determine what programming needs exist in the state in terms of farm stress and mental health. They will craft an action plan for Kentucky and help draft one for the entire Southern region, which includes 13 states and two U.S. territories.

“Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of stigma regarding mental health issues, and access to mental health service providers is extremely limited in rural Kentucky,” Hunter said. “We hope to develop a multidisciplinary approach to solve a complex problem.”

In addition to Hunter and Pescatore, researchers in the UK College of Nursing, animal and food scientists and extension specialists in agriculture and natural resources and family and consumer sciences will work on the project.

“As a family nurse practitioner, I have seen firsthand how sustained stress and mental health issues can take a heavy toll on individuals, families and entire communities,” said Julie Marfell, associate professor in the College of Nursing. “During this time of economic uncertainty, it is especially important that we engage with our farm families and rural communities to understand their needs and provide the services and resources necessary to improve their mental health and wellness. I look forward to working with UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment to help increase access to services and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in rural Kentucky.”

The grant also includes funding for the hiring of a UK extension specialist who is also a registered nurse specifically focused on the area of agriculture mental health.

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