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AgKnow creating a one-stop hub to support Alberta farmers' mental health

"We wanted to create a hub where we could kind of pull the stuff that's relevant to Alberta farmers all into one place.”
Wheat field near Bieseker nearly ripe for harvest.

Farm life may be an idyllic dream to some, but for those who live and work in the profession the difficult working conditions, the long hours, the isolation, the heavy financial burdens associated with debt management and high crop input costs, and even the changeable weather conditions, all take a huge toll on mental health and interpersonal relationships of farmers. 

It is no wonder that agriculture workers have the highest levels of suicide in the country and are categorized as being in one of the professions which suffers from the worst mental health in Canada.

In Alberta, which has the highest percentage of agricultural workers per capita, there is a growing network of organizations and grassroots movements trying to do something about it. 

That’s why, says Linda Hunt, director of the province’s AgKnow Initiative, the Alberta government’s recent injection of $388,500 to help expand the organization's capacity and outreach is so welcome.

“AgKnow is actually an initiative that came from the advocacy of the ag service boards, and the commodity commissions, and various farmers and ag businesses, asking the government for mental health supports and services that work in a farming context,” said Hunt. “So if we look back from about 2018, which is when they first started doing some of those studies in Canada, and we look at the growing conditions and we look at the commodity prices and we look at COVID, and we look at the war in Ukraine, and you start adding up all of those things– it's just compounding to being a really hard time for farmers right now."

AgKnow is intended to help fill some of the gaps in farmer-specific mental health services in the province, confirmed Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation Minister R.J. Sigurdson

“This is a continuation of the work that started in 2022 when the Government of Alberta initially started funding $524,500 for the development of the Alberta Farmer Mental Health Network, with the understanding that farming and ranching can be extremely stressful,” said Sigurdson. “The $388,500 is meant to continue to support AgKnow as they continue to build out a support network to be able to offer (free) counselling sessions, suicide awareness and prevention workshops, an agriculturally informed therapy network, a free research library and active studies as they continue to do all of this incredible work.”

Hunt said a large part of the problem is even where there are farm-specific mental health supports available in Alberta, many farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers simply do not know how to access them.

“What we find that happens in Canada and the US and with all our social media, is you get bombarded,” she explained. “So if you start looking for resources on mental health, you're going to get a ton of resources from all over, but not all of those are farm informed or aligned with a farming culture, and not all of those align with Alberta and none of them are available here in Alberta. We wanted to create a hub where we could kind of pull the stuff that's relevant to Alberta farmers all into one place.”

“There are so many (stress) factors our farmers and ranchers face every year,” agreed Sigurdson. “As a government, mental health is a prime focus for us, and understanding the challenges presented in front of our farmers and ranchers. It’s important to be able to support these mental health initiatives like AgKnow, which are designed and specifically engineered to make sure it focuses on our agricultural industry.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a grassroots network of caring individuals and specialized therapists who not only have empathy for the mental health challenges afflicting agricultural producers, said Hunt, but who also speak the farmers’ language.

“We want to make sure that there are supports and services that they can use when they get to a place where the compounding issues have caused them to move into a place of of higher anxiety, stress and depression and suicide,” she said.

For more infomation on the AgKnow Initiative and to access farm mental health resources visit


Tim Kalinowski

About the Author: Tim Kalinowski

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