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Colorado Crisis Line expands to help farmers and ranchers

December 3, 2017 Updated: December 4, 2017 at 6:12 am
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Gazette file photo (by Logan Riley)

Colorado's crisis hotline is taking on a population that might not occur to you: Farmers and ranchers.

The statewide, 24-7 crisis line was launched by Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Human Services in August 2014 as part of an effort to boost mental health services in the wake of the Aurora theater shootings.

Now Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown wants to make sure farmers and ranchers are getting the specialized help they need to deal with the specific mental health challenges faced by them and other rural Coloradans.

Brown spoke about the crisis line at the annual meeting of the Colorado Farm Bureau this month. He said he started hearing about the struggles of farmers and ranchers last winter, as commodity prices began to dip, which left some struggling to keep their farms running.

"When my wife and I were getting a phone call every three weeks" from someone who wanted to sell us their land "on the quiet," it sunk in that people needed help, Brown said.

According to Brown, however, the issue with the crisis line was that counselors didn't speak the language of agriculture.

"When we talk about we can't feed the cows, they're thinking of the family dog," not about a way of life, he said. "When we can't feed our cows, we can't feed our kids, we can't make land payments, and the kids' inheritance goes away. That's what that means."

So Brown asked that the crisis line add more training to better understand the problems of rural Coloradans. Such training would convey the message "that we're here to help."

In a recent interview with Colorado Politics, Brown likened the situation in 2017 to the 1980s, a time of tremendous upheaval in agriculture.

Back then, there was a run-up in land values as well as commodity prices, but then the bottom fell out, commodity prices crashed and there was no way to cover high interest rates and mortgage payments. It led to a collapse in land values and foreclosures, Brown said.

"A lot of people had to leave their farms," and it wasn't until the late 1990s that farms started to recover.

"You couldn't work hard enough to get yourself out of it; you had to sell and give the balance to the bank and go do something else," he said.

This year is not that different. While interest rates aren't high like they were in the 1980s, operating costs have increased to make up the difference. A tractor back in the 1980s might cost $50,000. Today, it's $350,000. Yet commodity prices in crops such as corn, wheat and cattle are about the same as three decades ago.

"To sell your family heritage is excruciating," Brown said.

That's the message that Brown wanted counselors on the crisis line to understand. To help bridge that gap, the Department of Agriculture set up a training video for those counselors, which included interviews with ag folks and bankers, for example. Five people shared their stories and how the crisis of 2017 may force them to do something they don't want to do, he explained.

The effort to help the agriculture community with the crisis line is backed by Colorado Farm Bureau, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, the Colorado State University extension office and the Department of Agriculture. It was formally launched earlier this month.

To reach out to a counselor, call 844-493-8255 (TALK) or text to 38255.

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