Rural Community Vitality

The vitality of rural communities is essential to the agricultural industry.  Rural community vitality can be achieved by curbing population outflow, protecting both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs and income, and increasing the quality of rural life.

Curbing Rural Population Outflows

Across the United States, Millennials from rural backgrounds are increasingly choosing to leave their family homes in favor of urban environments.  These trends largely drive population change in Missouri, particularly in areas of “rapid growth and decline”.  (Missouri Office of Administration).  Projections from the Missouri Office of Administration are consistent with the current trend.  By 2030, the 9 of the 10 counties expected to experience the largest population declines are rural.

Top-Ten Largest Projected Numeric Decreases in Missouri Counties, 2000 through 2030. Missouri Office of Administration.

Quality of Life

The mental health of agricultural industry workers is a key issue across the state of Missouri. Suicide is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, and suicide rates in farmers and ranchers are the highest of any occupation.Those engaged in agriculture are nearly twice as likely to take their lives by suicide than general population. In fact, a 2016 Centers for Disease Control report found that suicide rates among agricultural workers are the highest of any occupation, including veterans.

Rates of suicide per 100,000 population, by sex, and ranked overall by Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) group — 17 states, 2012. At a rate of 90.5 per 100,000 workers, the rate among male agricultural workers in 2012 was nearly double that of the second ranked occupation.

In agriculture, external factors that are beyond farmers’ control such as weather, natural disasters, market outlooks, and government regulations contribute a significant amount of stress to an already physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding way of life.  Access, affordability, and perceived stigma are compounding factors that ultimately prevent many agricultural workers from seeking behavioral health care when needed1.  The maps below compare self-reported mental health and employment in agriculture in Missouri counties.  In areas with higher agricultural employment, mental health tends to be worse.  The maps also show that fewer mental health treatment facilities and resources exist in agricultural areas.

Poor Mental Health Days (left) compared to Workers in Agriculture, Forestry, or Mining (right). Each point represents a Mental Health Treatment Facility.


Rosmann, M.R. (2008). Behavioral Health Care of the Agricultural Population: A Brief History. Journal of Rural Mental Health, 32(1), 39-48

For more information on this issue see the “Labor Force Dynamics” issue on the Business & Community impact area page.