HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Department of Agriculture has announced plans to start a comprehensive program aimed at alleviating stress for Montana farmers and ranchers.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network awarded the Montana Department of Agriculture a $500,000 grant to start the program. FRSAN is a program authorized through the Farm Bill to connect individuals engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.

“Montana’s farmers and ranchers are carrying heavy workloads, braving the elements no matter the weather, not to mention taking care of equipment, animals, family members, and everything else that comes along with their work of feeding the world," said Christy Clark, acting director at Montana Department of Agriculture." Our department is excited to roll out resources to ensure our producers are taken care of first and foremost, because they are truly the most important part of their operation.”

The Montana Department of Agriculture’s stress assistance program includes Montana-specific initiatives to reduce the negative stigma tied to mental health and connect producers with tangible, effective resources. To address the limited access to mental healthcare services in the state, the department will provide vouchers to Montana farmers and ranchers for free, confidential counseling services, both in-person and tele-health, to be provided by in-state providers who have ties to Montana communities and an appreciation for agriculture. MDA will also work in partnership with Montana agricultural groups and organizations to provide grant funding that can be used to help pay for mental health programming, such as a speaker or workshop.

In addition to the counseling voucher and grant programs, MDA will promote existing resources such as the Montana Ag Producer Stress Resource Clearing House developed by the Montana State University and the Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Programs to continue enhancing mental health among those involved in Montana agriculture.