As we enter the holiday season, it’s appropriate to count our blessings and say thanks for the bountiful harvest. We can all appreciate the work done by our farmers to keep Minnesota’s rural economy strong.

    As we enter the holiday season, it’s appropriate to count our blessings and say thanks for the bountiful harvest. We can all appreciate the work done by our farmers to keep Minnesota’s rural economy strong.

    Mild weather allowed us all a reprieve from the coming harshness of winter. Agriculture is a driver of our Minnesota economy, and especially in our rural communities, the success of our farmers directly relates to the success of our communities.

    The 2017 harvest season was another record-breaking year for many Minnesota farmers, but every year presents its own challenges, and 2017 was no different. With low grain prices, high input costs, and uncertainty on everything from the weather to foreign trade, many farmers are feeling stressed. Monitoring the health of Minnesota farms and Minnesota farmers is critically important to me.

    For farm families facing challenges this year, I want to share some important information about Minnesota’s efforts to relieve farmer stress, assist with critical financial issues, and support farmer physical and mental health.

    One resource is the Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline 1-833-600-2670 (toll-free). This dedicated phone line is answered by trained counselors 24/7. This confidential helpline is for anyone experiencing symptoms of stress/distress - including spouses or neighbors who are worried about someone but don’t know how to approach him or her.

    Many of us were raised to take everything in stride and to never complain. That’s made many of us tireless workers, but creates challenges in how we respond when it all seems like too much to handle. Sometimes it’s difficult to realize while we are in the midst of struggles, but talking things out often leads to relief and resources that we might not have realized were available.

    One source of financial anxiety for farmers in recent years is the rising cost of health insurance. There are a number of options you should know about in 2017. This year, Minnesotans will have from November 1, 2017 to January 14, 2018 to shop for health coverage on MNsure, the marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can shop, compare and choose health insurance coverage. The MNsure online search tool (www.mnsure.org) and the network of assisters throughout the state (mnsure.org/help/find-assister or 1-855-366-7873 or 651-539-2099) helps Minnesotans access lifesaving health care services, avoid crippling medical bills, and reduce their premium costs.

    Following approval of a state law last session, a new independent health care cooperative called 40 Square is another option for health insurance in 2017. They have been holding informational meetings across Minnesota for farmers interested in learning about its health insurance plan options. 40 Square Cooperative Solutions is offering six self-funded plan options, in addition to dental, vision and voluntary term life benefits. Open enrollment runs until December 15, 2017.

    Farmers who are considered an employer with at least one common-law employee and work in production agriculture are eligible. Those who qualify will work with a broker to make sure the best individual or family plan is chosen. To connect with a local broker or agent in your area to assist you with the 40 Square offering and for more information, visit www.40square.coop, email info@40square.coop, or call 1-844-205-9579.

    If you are not a farmer, but you work in one of the many ag-related businesses (veterinarians, bankers, insurance agents, etc.), you might be interested in the Down on the Farm: Supporting Farmers in Stressful Times  workshop. This 3-hour workshop is designed to assist people who work closely with farmers recognize and respond when they see farmers struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, etc.  It will be offered at 6 locations in Minnesota between January and March 2018. You can get more information by calling 651-201-6012 or register at www.mdadownonthefarm.eventbrite.com .

State Rep. Jeanne Poppe
DFL – Austin

    Poppe is the DFL Lead on the Minnesota House Agriculture Finance Committee and also a member of the House Agriculture Policy Committee.