Stress-factors mount for Colorado agricultural workers

Six Colorado dairy farms have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, with more expected to follow, reports The Denver Post.

This report adds to mounting evidence of the kind of stress workers in the state’s agriculture sector are facing as the federal government has declined to fund additional mental-health services for farmers and ranchers.

The Post article cites two reasons for the rash of bankruptcy filings: milk commodity prices are at their lowest level since the 1970s and the collapse of New Frontier Bank in Greeley. The bank’s closure in April cut credit lines for many dairy farmers, just as prices plummeted. And farmers still don’t whether the new owners of the New Frontier loans—75 percent of which are in arrears— will be willing to restructure. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. auctioned loans totaling $455 million from the bank last August.

Four of the businesses — Diamond D Dairy of Longmont, Johnson Dairy of Eaton, Podtburg & Sons Dairy of Greeley and TV Dairy of Fort Lupton — were New Frontier borrowers. Nichols Dairy of Cañon City and Daisy Lane Dairy of Cope relied on other banks.

Meanwhile, says Mike Rosman, executive director of the Iowa-based AgriWellness, his agency has fielded calls from 28 states this year, as they face increased demand for behavioral health services in the agriculture sector.

“I’ve spoken with people from the states of Oklahoma, Utah and Colorado — and that has just been in the last week,” Rosmann told the Iowa Independent recently.

Rosmann said he has waged an uphill battle this year lobbying for federal money to fund consistent and available mental-health services for those in the agriculture sector.

His proposed Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network would build on the Sowing the Seeds of Hope program co-sponsored by AgriWellness to create a national crisis hotline for rural workers. It would also mandate additional behavioral health services in rural regions. Services in Colorado would not be funded until the program’s second year.

However, while the network was authorized by the 2008 farm bill — and re-authorized by the 2010 versions of the bill passed by the House and Senate — it has not yet received funding from the federal government.

AgriWellness says that U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has indicated he will sponsor an effort to add funds to the Conference Committee bill—but the nonprofit acknowledges that trying to add new funding into a conference committee bill is risky, at best.

AgriWellness is also preparing a request for Farm and Ranch Stress Network funding for the FY2011 Agriculture budget.

But that funding may come too late for Colorado’s dairy farmers.

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