An upcoming conference aims to arm producers — and the people around them — with resources to help cope with the mental and emotional challenges that come with the profession.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September, the rate of suicide in rural areas is 25 percent higher than those in more populated areas.

“With everything that has happened here recently, it’s been struggle,” said Caleb Carter, a University of Wyoming Extension educator working in Goshen County.

As Carter was planning this year’s High Plains Crop Convention, he settled on a theme of resilience and decided to find a way to bring mental health resources to its attendees.

“I wanted to bring somebody in that could talk about it in a way that is on the producer’s level,” said Carter. “Someone who could remove the stigma around mental health.”

Carter found that in Ted Matthews, the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health. Matthews is a mental health practitioner with more than 30 years of experience counseling people in rural areas. For the last 20 years, his focus has been on offering mental health support to farmers and ranchers.

“I’m really excited,” said Carter. “He understands where they’re coming from and the challenges they’re facing.”

Matthews will be providing rural mental health support training from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Nov. 25 at the Goshen County Fairgrounds in Torrington. Carter said the training is open to anyone in agriculture or those who work with people in agriculture.

“This training is for people who work with farm and ranch families on a regular basis to help them recognize and respond when they see farmers experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and other challenges,” said Carter.

The cost to attend the training is $75 and includes lunch.

Carter’s hope is that the training will leave people feeling confident enough to help out when they feel like someone might be struggling.

“You hear stories of the farmer who gets sick and his neighbors come in and help harvest his crops,” said Carter. “The ag community is always the first to show up to help, but when it comes to talking about more difficult topics — we don’t have those conversations. I would really like to remove that stigma and open the lines of communication.”

The conference will continue Tuesday at the Fairgrounds with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m. and a keynote address by Matthews at 9 a.m. where he will discuss the realities of mental illness in agriculture.

Matthews will be available for free one-on-one counseling sessions during the convention.

“Of course, those will be completely confidential,” said Carter.

According to Carter, the resilience theme will continue with presentations on coping with stress and anxiety in creating an ag legacy for families, resilience strategies during disasters and an update from the Wyoming Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher committee on its efforts to build the program and create a network for young producers.

Attendees will also hear a dry bean and soilborne disease update from UW Extension plant pathologist William Stump as well as an update on the Wyoming Bean Commission. Steve Koontz, an agricultural marketing expert from Colorado State University, will give a crop market update.

There will also be sessions on the alfalfa weevil, alternative crops research, new herbicides and growing hemp in Wyoming. Continuing education credits for certified crop advisers and commercial pesticide applicators will also be available.

The cost to attend the conference on Nov. 26 is $20 and includes lunch.

Attendees are asked to register by Nov. 22 by visiting bit.ly/highplainsCC2019 or by calling Carter at 307-532-2436.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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