MFA Foundation gift supports rural mental health resources

Missouri farmers and ranchers increasingly struggle with mental health challenges and access to resources. The state’s rural suicide rate is growing faster than in urban counties, increasing 78% between 2003 and 2017.

With a four-year grant commitment from the MFA Foundation, University of Missouri Extension will have new avenues to support rural communities in need of mental health assistance.

“Most parts of rural Missouri don’t have access to mental health providers and services to meet the need,” said Karen Funkenbusch, an MU Extension health and safety specialist and director of the Missouri AgrAbility project. “The MFA Foundation’s substantial four-year commitment will allow the expansion of teletherapy sessions and increased educational awareness in more rural communities. This generous gift will assist in the creation of more resources and the development of a statewide mental health awareness campaign targeting one of Missouri’s most vulnerable populations.”

FarmerMU Extension addresses the challenge through resources shared by trained extension specialists. With backgrounds in both agriculture and mental health, these specialists have a deep understanding of the pressures that farmers and ranchers face, such as rising fertilizer and fuel costs, challenging weather, poor harvests and struggles with debt.

“The lack of mental health support in Missouri’s rural areas is an ongoing challenge,” said John Ihler, president and CEO of Columbia-based MFA Oil. “It has been difficult to address for multiple reasons, from cultural to financial, but there is a clear need for better access. The MFA Foundation recognizes that need and hopes to be part of providing resources that can help fulfill it.”

One such resource is the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance program, which provides mental health resources and telehealth counseling sessions. Since 2020, the program—broadly known as Show-Me Strong Farm Families—has served more than 2,000 farm community members in all 114 Missouri counties. Funkenbusch and her team teach classes and provide resources to people experiencing problems related to mental health.

The program has saved Missouri participants $91,330—the amount that USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture and MU Extension scholarships covered to ensure individuals can attend the behavioral health programs regardless of need.

“Seeing the approach that the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance program has taken convinced us that partnering with University of Missouri Extension will be a true multiplier for the MFA Foundation's financial support,” Ihler said. “If we focus on this challenge, we can make a difference.”

The MFA Foundation is funded by MFA Inc., MFA Oil and local affiliates of both companies.

Resource: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support to people in mental health-related distress. To speak with a trained counselor, call, text or chat 988. Counselors will listen, understand how callers’ problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to resources, if necessary.

Read another Today's Farmer magazine story on mental health HERE.

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MFA Incorporated is a Midwest-based regional farm supply and marketing cooperative serving more than 45,000 farmer/owners in its trade area. Through its network of retail locations and affiliated cooperatives in Missouri and adjacent states, MFA provides value-added products, services and expertise to help farmers succeed.

MFA Oil Company, formed in 1929, is a farmer-owned cooperative and the ninth-largest propane retailer in the United States. The company supplies fuels, lubricants, and propane to customers in Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Through a subsidiary, MFA Oil operates Break Time convenience stores in Missouri; a Big O Tires franchise in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas; a solar panel installation company, Energized Solar; and APM, a wholesale fuel distributor.

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Ramping up research

$8 million grant will expand MU’s National Swine Center

The University of Missouri has received an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand the National Swine Resource and Research Center on MU’s campus, which officials say should speed up scientific discoveries in biomedical research.

The center, which was established in 2003, has become the go-to researchsource for genetically modified pigs used by researchers across the United States to study various diseases that impact humans. Keeping up with the ever-growing demand amid limited resources has become a challenge, said Randall Prather, principal investigator and professor in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Requests for genetically modified pigs constantly come in from researchers at universities all over the country, and the current facility has maxed out its capacity.

“We undertake projects for things that have failed in studies with mice but are much better suited for pigs,” Prather said. “For example, you can’t take a mouse’s heart and transplant it into a human. It’s not going to work. But pigs are far more genetically and physiologically similar to a human, so they are very good biomedical models to study human diseases. The cardiovascular systems are very similar between pigs and humans, and baby pigs are also great for studying infant nutrition, as their nutritional requirements are very similar to humans.”

The center has received funding from the NIH for 20 years. Construction on the expanded facility, which will have extremely high biosecurity protocols, is expected to begin in February 2024 and be completed by summer 2025.

While the NSRRC is mainly focused on biomedical studies, Prather’s work also has agricultural applications, such as making pigs that are resistant to certain diseases. The research has implications for both agriculture and human medicine.

“One example is the only genetically modified pig that has been approved for human consumption designed for people who suffer from red meat allergy,” Prather said. “We discovered that by disrupting a gene that produces a specific sugar molecule on the surface of cells within pigs, humans with red meat allergy can eat the genetically modified pork without suffering from any digestive issues.”

Prather invented the patent for this technology that is now owned by MU. In January 2022, surgeons in Maryland successfully transplanted a pig heart into a human patient for the first time ever. Prather’s decades worth of research, work with genetically modified pigs and knowledge of pig-to-human organ transplants helped contribute to the historic accomplishment.

“Our goal is to provide resources and knowledge so that others can be successful in helping people,” Prather said. “Our work is a part of medical solutions for people, and this expanded facility is crucial because pigs have so much potential for solving real-world problems. We are just one step in the journey, and it is satisfying to be a part of it.”

Read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer


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Missouri 4-H team takes top honors at national judging contest

For the first time in the team’s history, Missouri 4-H finished as No. 1 in the nation at the 2022 All-American Dairy Show Invitational Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Contest, held Sept. 19 in Harrisburg, Penn. The team of Payton Nix of Mountain Grove, Lila Wantland of Niangua and Whitney Yerina of Phillipsburg finished ahead of Florida and Kentucky to win the contest.

“All three team members finished in the top 20,” said Karla Deaver, University of Missouri Extension 4-H youth development specialist and co-coach of the team. “They were very consistent across breeds, and that gave us the edge.”

Nix scored as third high individual overall, second high individual in Ayrshires, ninth in Brown Swiss, third in Holsteins and fifth in oral reasons. Yerina was 10th high individual overall in the contest and 12th in Holsteins. Wantland finished 19th overall and was seventh in Ayrshires and 11th in Guernseys.

The team was second in Ayrshires by 1 point. They were also fourth in Brown Swiss and Holsteins, fifth in Guernseys and sixth in oral reasons. Contestants placed 10 classes and gave four sets of reasons. The team is coached by Deaver and MU Extension dairy specialist Ted Probert.
Nix, Wantland and Yerina also had a historic showing Oct. 2 at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., where they competed in the 100th National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest. Deaver said all three 4-Hers were named “All-American,” and the team placed second in Holsteins, the best finish ever in that breed. They were also ranked third in Jerseys and sixth overall out of 20 competing teams.

DairyStarsMissouri 4-H finished as the high overall team at the 2022 All-American Dairy Show Invitational Youth Dairy Cattle Judging Contest in September. Team members are, from left, co-coach Karla Deaver, Lila Wantland, Payton Nix and Whitney Yerina.


Read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer



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