R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Educator tackling farmers’ mental health

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Josie Rudolphi is leading a University of Illinois study looking into the alarming rate of suicide and depression among farmers and rural communities. She believes social stigmas around mental health treatment are showing signs of abatement. (U of I/Fred Zwicky photo)

In this week’s farm and rural news roundup, we call attention to farmer mental health during the holidays. We also have good news about future lock and dam improvements on the Illinois River, and we celebrate Pork Power’s goal of donating one million pounds of pork to Illinois food banks!


Illinois Corn celebrates WRDA victory

BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Corn Growers Association is celebrating the passage of a key lock and dam improvement bill that locks in a new cost-share provision intended to spur more projects on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

The Water Resources Development Act of 2022 passed in the Senate by a vote of 83-11 on Dec. 15 as part of the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 8, and now heads to the president for his signature.

WRDA 2022 includes a policy provision that makes permanent the 65 percent general revenues fund to 35 percent Inland Waterways Trust Fund cost-share for lock and dam construction and major rehabilitation projects established in WRDA 2020. The cost-sharing formula was set to expire in 2031.

“Illinois Corn is delighted to hear this news. Illinois farmers export 50.9 percent of corn. The increased federal investment in our waterways infrastructure is a huge gain for Illinois farmers. A special thanks to Senator (Tammy) Duckworth, D-8th, for her leadership (in) making the cost-share permanent,” the ICGA stated in a news release.


Flags lowered for Sen. Scott Bennett

CHICAGO — If you’re wondering why flags were lowered to half-mast at all Illinois public buildings last week, they were in honor of the late State Sen. Scott Bennett, who passed away at age 45 on Dec. 9 from brain tumor complications. Bennett was a strong advocate for Illinois agriculture and rural communities, most recently sponsoring legislation that created a statewide rural mental health task force and network.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a proclamation ordering all flags at State of Illinois facilities be flown at half-staff until sundown on Monday, Dec. 19, in honor and remembrance of Bennett, a Democrat who represented the Urbana-Champaign area.

“Senator Bennett was a good man who always strove to serve his constituents in Springfield, advocating fiercely for his community and for people across the state of Illinois,” said Pritzker. “The entire state is a better place thanks to his dedicated service, which we honor with this official symbol of mourning. MK and I send our thoughts to his loving wife Stacy and their two beautiful children during this tragic time.”


U of I educator tackling farmers’ mental health

URBANA — The late State Sen. Scott Bennett championed farmers’ mental health through his Farm Family Resource Initiative, which started as a pilot project featuring a hotline and telecare assistance in six southern Illinois counties and expanded to include all 102 Illinois counties. Also, at the forefront of rural mental health in Illinois is Josie Rudophi, University of Illinois professor of agricultural and biological engineering, who is studying factors behind the alarming rate of suicides among farmers and the rural community. In a recent interview, Rudolphi said that she is concerned about the lack of mental health care and physician’s services available to many in the rural community.

“Most parts of Illinois are designated mental health care shortage areas — meaning we just don’t have the providers and services to meet the need. In terms of barriers, we talk about the four A’s — accessibility; availability, and we see that as a huge barrier; affordability; and acceptability or stigmatization,” Rudolphi said.

“Most farmers are independent producers who operate on very thin margins. Mental health care is often considered a luxury or an unnecessary expense. Geographical distribution of the populations is another challenge — farmers are scattered across the counties and states. They’re not in one centralized workplace like a healthcare facility or university campus that would make mental health education and outreach easier. And their schedules are incredibly varied.”

In addition, stigmas associated with mental health remain. Many in rural communities do not wish for their neighbors to see their cars parked at mental health providers’ locations, for example. However, Rudolphi is sensing a shift in those perceptions, she said. Read the full interview, “What is Driving the High Suicide Rate Among Farmers?”, at www.news.illinois.edu.


Pork Power donations eclipse 1 million pounds

SPRINGFIELD – Since its inception in 2008 we’ve always enjoyed sharing the success stories of Pork Power!, a pork donation program organized by pig farmers in the Illinois Pork Producers Association. Last week, the IPPA-led nonprofit program celebrated the donation of the millionth pound of donated pork with a delivery of 8,900 pounds of processed pork to the Central Illinois Food Bank in Springfield.

“When the Pork Power Program was started in 2008, it was by a handful of producers who donated a few hogs here and there,” said Thomas Titus, IPPA president. “I can’t imagine that anyone could have imagined how wildly successful it would become! We are grateful for our partnerships with all of the associations involved in the Pork Power Program; we reached this goal largely because of their generosity.”

CIFB serves as a regional distribution point for donated food. The donations were distributed through CIFB’s 160 partner agencies across 21 counties in central and southern Illinois. Through the years, many other regional Illinois food banks have also benefited from the Pork Power program. (IPPA news)


Illinois Farm Fact:

The MILLION pounds of pork donated by farmers through the IPPA’s Pork Power program equates to over 3.3 million servings distributed to customers of food banks throughout Illinois. (IPPA)