The Great Plains Center offers grant funding to both researchers and community organizations engaged in agricultural safety and health activities.  The objective of this grant program is to serve as an incubator for new agricultural health and safety research, prevention, intervention, outreach, and translation projects that have high likelihood of leading to more comprehensive activities.  Both categories of previously funded grants are available to review below, organized by year.

Drought can lead to more than the summertime blues in farmers

By Jennifer Patterson

It comes to no surprise to our readers that farmers are vulnerable to extreme weather events, but have you considered adding ways to combat occupational stress when it comes to drought planning for yourself and your ag community?

Jesse Berman, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, and his team recently published a peer-reviewed paper in Science of The Total Environment that looked at the association between drought conditions and increasing occupational stress among nearly 500 Midwest farmers over 2012-15.

Researchers examined the relationship between drought (using the standardized precipitation index) and measures of job-related stress (psychological job demands).  The study identified that stress related to the psychological demands of the job increased during drought conditions in the growing season.  Increased stress related to drought was nearly 4-fold greater than stress associated with other factors, such as reporting pain in multiple body parts.

While we know that lack of rain causes stress, this study quantifies the trend and lends evidence to the need for mental health interventions.  The authors suggest including information on health risks and mitigation strategies during early phases of drought conditions with increased mental health resources for vulnerable populations.

This understudied threat to public health is particularly important due to increasingly hotter and drier growing seasons in North America, and could provide important data for federal early warning systems and preparedness policy.

“Incorporating health into drought early warning plans is a growing priority of the National Integrated Drought Information System,” Berman said. “Studies that evaluate health risks from extreme weather are incredibly important for protecting both current and future farming populations that suffer disproportionately from natural disaster events.”

Berman received a GPCAH pilot grant in 2019 to fund this study.


Academic Pilot Grants

Year 2020-2021

      • Examining the Role of Agricultural Cooperatives in Protecting Farmers’ Mental Health (Y Lang, Occupational and Environment Health, University of Iowa-College of Public Health) Stress, depression, and suicide have been reported among farmers. Cooperatives provide farmer-members market stability, technical support, and support networks but the effects of these programs on mental health is not well understood. Preliminary studies of Midwest dairy cooperative farmers observed fewer self-reported symptoms of depression among farmers who used cooperative service and engagement programs than those who reported not using these programs. Non-cooperative farmers may use similar programs from farmer support organizations, agricultural extension offices, and agribusiness. It is unknown whether cooperative and non-cooperative farmers differ in stress and depression and whether potential differences are associated with cooperative membership, social support, and programs used. We will expand our preliminary studies by examining stress and symptoms of depression and estimating potential associations between cooperative membership, social support, and programs used among cooperative and non-cooperative farmers. Accomplishing these AIMs will improve our understanding the role cooperatives play in farmers’ mental health.

Year 2019-2021

      • Public Health Agriculture Related Mental Health Research (PHARMHR) (E Zabel, Minnesota Department of Health Center for Occupational Health and Safety).The long-term goals of our work are to prevent suicide, mental health-related hospitalizations, and other adverse mental health outcomes in the farm community. The proposed project will design and evaluate mental health indicators using existing public health data on farmers and farming communities to inform public health practice and health care delivery. Using an advisory council, we will move beyond passive release of mental health data toward active dissemination. We will track how, where, and when data from this project are being used by public health and other professionals, and will modify the dissemination plan as appropriate to ensure effective use of data. Current funding will sustain the data collection and dissemination effort after development. Dissemination of this information will give public health and mental health service programs what they need to implement and evaluate prevention efforts and design effective interventions in rural and farming communities.
      • The Impact of Drought Conditions on Occupational Psychosocial Stress among a Midwest Farmers Cohort (Jesse D. Berman, Div. of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota School of Public Health; Jesse E Bell, PhD, Dept. of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center; Marizen Ramirez, PhD, Div. of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Minnesota School of Public Health; Nathan Fethke, PhD, Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa College of Public Health; Fredric Gerr, MD, Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa College of Public Health
        Drought is considered the most far-reaching natural disaster, yet our understanding of droughts public health impacts is inadequate and incomplete. Increased psychological stress is among the most notable drought-related health consequence and agricultural workers are considered increasingly vulnerable to drought conditions Their occupational and economic reliance on water, combined with often limited access to mental health care, places them at greater risk. Despite their vulnerability, we are aware of no studies examining the effects of drought on measures of psychosocial stress among U.S. agricultural populations. Our project will use an existing survey of 518 Midwestern farmers across a 40 year period and apply a case-crossover longitudinal study design to estimate the association between drought conditions and occupational psychosocial stress. We hypothesize an association between measures of drought and occupational psychosocial stress among farmers. The results will fill an important research gap and inform resilience strategies to reduce environmentally mediated stress among agricultural workers.


Year 2017-2019

      • Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure and Impact on Swine Barn Dust Induced Lung Inflammation (C Charavaryamath, Iowa State University Department of Biomedical Sciences, Ames IA).
        Swine barn workers are exposed to various airborne occupational contaminants and report respiratory symptoms and many long-term health effects. The impact of low-grade hydrogen sulfide gas on the lung’s innate immunity is unknown. This study involves toxicological laboratory studies in mouse models to identify how hydrogen sulfide gases impact the lung’s innate response to bacteria.

Year 2015–2017

      • Occupational Safety and Health Prevention among Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers in Iowa (A Johannes, University of Iowa, Dept of Occupational and Environmental Health – graduate student).
        In collaboration with Proteus, Inc. (a nonprofit organization that provides healthcare to migrant farmworkers), study investigators examined injuries and illnesses, healthcare-seeking behavior, and use of prevention measures among 70 migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Less than 40% of survey respondents reported receiving information on any common health problem from their doctor, employer, or elsewhere. Participants requested more information on prevention, management, and treatment of these health concerns. These results have been shared with employers and Proteus staff.
      • Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) Simulation and Hearing Protection Device Fit Testing (J Gibbs, M Cheyney, University of Iowa, Dept of Occupational and Environmental Health, R Meschner, S Klemuk, University of Iowa, Dept of Communication Sciences and Disorders/Audiology). This team (a) designed a NIHL simulator for use at outreach events and (b) examined how well hearing protection fits farmers
        (E-A-R fit™ validation test). Fit test data show most farmers achieved better personal attenuation using ‘Push-In’ style ear plugs than with formable foam style ear plugs despite the higher manufacturer-reported Noise Reduction Ratings for formable foam plugs. This study provided preliminary data for additional funding and will lead to a scientific publication and recommendations for changes to hearing conservation recommendations among agricultural workers.
      • Identifying Job Demands and Health Outcomes among Iowa Beginning Farmers (M Ramaswamy, University of Iowa, Dept of Occupational and Environmental Health – graduate student). Study personnel estimated associations between (a) physical and psychosocial demands and (b) general and musculoskeletal health status and acute injury occurrences among 98 beginning farmers. Women and men differed significantly with respect to exposure to certain physical demands. Men reported higher exposure to holding powered equipment with hands (median [IQR]: 3.0[1.9-3.6], men; 2.0 [1.0-3.0], women) as well as using manual tools (median [IQR]: 3.6[3.0-5.0], men; 2.5 [1.0-3.2], women).Participants reported occurrence of musculoskeletal pain over the past 12 months, with 62% reporting pain in the neck/shoulder region, 45% in the elbow/hand/wrist region, and 69% in the low back region.
      • Increasing the Use of Hearing Protection among Young Adult Swine Confinement Workers (J Rudolphi, University of Iowa, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health – graduate student).
        This project examined safe behavior (hearing protection use) and differences between 72 young study adult swine production workers who used smart-phone tracking with and without daily goals for hearing protection use. After completing the baseline survey, all participants were mailed hearing protection kits. Instructions for downloading and using a smartphone app to log behaviors was sent to participants in the two intervention groups. The greatest increase in reported hearing protection use was in the intervention with goal group, who reported a mean use increase of 47%. The intervention without goal group reported a mean increase of 42% and the control group reported a mean increase of 32%.

Year 2014–2015

        • Identifying agricultural behaviors of Iowa’s young farmers (J Rudolphi, University of Iowa, Dept of Occupational and Environmental Health – graduate student). An online survey was completed by 222 young farmers and showed that young female farmers reported safer work practices than young male farmers. In addition, the study found a strong link between workplace policies and safer work practices. A manuscript is in development.
        • Metagenomics and Staphylococcus Aureus Colonization in Livestock Workers (Kates, A. University of Iowa, Dept. of Epidemiology, Iowa City, IA – graduate student). Study investigators are examining the nasal microbiome of 33 non-livestock and 26 livestock workers in order to compare those with aureus colonization to those without S. aureus colonization to identify risk factors for this outcome. All RNA sequencing and spa typing has been completed, and data are currently being analyzed.

Year 2013–2014

        • Effect of Elevated Carbon Dioxide on Lung Inflammation in Barn Dust Instilled Mice (D Schneberger, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE). The investigators tested co-exposures of mice to both barn dust extracts and an atmosphere with 5000 ppm CO2. Although no changes were noted with CO2 exposure in the absence of barn dust, the addition of CO2 to barn dust was associated with an increase in inflammatory markers in comparison to barn dust alone.  These results provide evidence that controlling CO2 concentrations in swine barns may prevent respiratory inflammation among swine workers. These results led to an American Thoracic Society presentation, additional funding, and a peer-reviewed publication.

Year 2012–2013

      • Determining the mechanisms and outcomes of ATV crashes among high-risk groups in the Great Plains Region (C Jennissen, G Denning, K Harland, University of Iowa, Dept. of Emergency Medicine, Iowa City, IA). This project compiled 1996-2012 Iowa FACE data and nine state press clipping data to identify factors associated with agricultural ATV/UTV crashes. Data were compiled for academic publication and results have led to further funding from the Kohls Foundation (Kohls Cares) for community ATV/UTV safety outreach activities.
      • Genetic variation in endotoxin receptors and their association with COPD phenotypes (T LeVan, J Merchant, & K Kelly, University of Iowa, Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health, Iowa City, IA). Using stored blood samples of Keokuk County Rural Health Cohort participants, a nested case-control study examined the relationship between COPD and specific single nucleotide polymorphisms. A previously unknown association between COPD and HHIP polymorphisms rs13118928 and rs1542725 was observed. The results have been published in the academic literature.
      • A tractor rollover detection and emergency reporting system (A Bulent Koc, W Downs, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO). Project investigators developed the first rollover detection sensor system with a Bluetooth connection to iPhone/iPad. This technology was shared with the ASABE and resulted in two scholarly publications. Researchers provided demonstrations to more than 1600 individuals at events sponsored by the Cattlemen Association, Pork Producers Association, and the Missouri State Fair. More than 50 media stories covered these events.  One of the academic papers resulting from this project also was awarded “Best Paper” recognition at the 2013 International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health Conference.

Community Pilot Grants

Year 2020-2021

      • Respiratory protection training following COVID-19: Developing and testing interactive educational resources in the ag health and safety classroom (C Sheridan, Ag Health and Safety Alliance) In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at US AFF Centers and NIOSH/CDC worked together to generate a plethora of evidence-based guidance for agricultural workers on how to deal with potential PPE shortages and plan for similar events. The overall goal of this proposal is to develop three new evidence-based interactive infographic resources about respirator use in agriculture, strategies to address current or future PPE shortages, and proper use/prolonged storage of N95 respirators, following the pandemic. These resources will be piloted among ~230 agricultural students, health care professionals, and safety managers. Evaluation results will be used to revise the resources for broader, national use and to construct an academic paper for an outreach publication. We believe that after engaging with these resources, participants will be more prepared to address respiratory health challenges and PPE shortages in similar future crisis or public health emergencies.

Year 2019-2021

      • Stress on the Farm: Strategies to Help Each Other (David N. Brown, PhD, LMFT, CFLE, Behavioral Health State Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Chad Hart, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. of Economics, Iowa State University & Grain Markets Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach).
        This pilot project will provide a culturally relevant suicide prevention “‘gatekeeper” training to the agricultural community in Iowa. The project anticipates providing at least fifty interactive “gatekeeper” suicide prevention trainings across Iowa, in conjunction with Iowa State University Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension sponsored Farm Bill meetings. These meetings will train between 2,500 and 5,000 agriculture producers and agribusiness professionals in an intervention strategy to identify persons at risk of suicide and refer them to treatment or supporting services as needed. Risk and protective factors of suicide will be addressed. The project will be evaluated for short term knowledge and potential for behavior change as well as a 3-month follow-up assessing behavior change as a result of the training.

Year 2018-2020

      • Opioid Crisis Response in Farm Communities: Overdose Prevention and Training for Farmers and Agricultural Workers (S Ziegnhorn, Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition; N Novak, University of Iowa Department of Community and Behavioral Health, Iowa City IA). This project aims to conduct and evaluate opioid prevention training and outreach with two important agricultural populations: agricultural workers and migrant farmworkers. The team will conduct 6 community “train the trainer” sessions with over 120 producers and agricultural workers, and will partner with Proteus Migrant Health Program to conduct 6 migrant health outreach sessions to 50 migrant farmworkers in the state of Iowa. The project uses a community-engaged, peer-to-peer approach to adapt and implement an established opioid overdose prevention training. The goals are to prevent opioid overdose among agricultural workers and to build capacity to respond to the opioid crisis in agricultural communities. The team will evaluate the impact through pre- and post-assessments conducted with training participants and through analysis of routine program data on overdose reversal reports.
      • Growing Resiliency in Tough Times (GRITT): A Text-Messaging Mental Health Intervention for Farmers. (A Holmstrom, Michigan State University Department of Communication, East Lansing MI).  Chronic stress among agricultural workers is associated with negative outcomes including mental illness, substance abuse, poor physical health, risk of injury, and suicide. This project aims to develop a text-messaging mental health intervention to educate agricultural workers about farm-related stress as well as coping strategies for stress management. The intervention will be pilot tested among more than 300 agricultural workers in the state of Michigan to assess feasibility, usability, and acceptability. This innovative intervention has the potential to overcome multiple barriers to accessing mental health information in rural agricultural communities.
      • Airing Out Farm Stress. (M Moynihan, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, St. Paul MN). Farming is a stressful occupation at the best of times and current pressures are mounting. Financial problems, price and market uncertainties, weather, farm transfer issues, production challenges, marital difficulties, isolation, and social pressures can be significant and debilitating sources of stress for agricultural workers and family members. This project aims to tackle the silence around how the stresses inherent in agricultural production can affect the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of agricultural workers. This project involves a partnership with a local radio network (Red River Farm Network) to create and air 60 second programs that will each reach a listening audience of more than 100,000 North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota agricultural workers and family members. The project also involves the creation of more in-depth 10-15 minute podcasts on each mental health topic as identified by community advisory group members.
      • Train the Trainer Program to Promote Safe Respiratory Use for Pesticide Applicators. (N Hoidal, University of Minnesota Extension, Minneapolis MN) Due to shifting trends in pesticide use, applicators are beginning to use more chemicals that require respirators. However, there is a significant lack of knowledge around respirator selection and use, as well as a lack of educational resources and infrastructure across the state to support fit testing (a necessary component of respirator selection). This project will develop and deliver a series of train the trainer respirator safety and fit testing workshops across the state of Minnesota. Additionally, the project involves the development of outreach materials to be used by rural healthcare professionals, extension educators, agricultural coop health and safety managers, and other state Pesticide Safety Education Programs in the region.

Year 2017–2019

      • Agritourism Safety and Health Best Practices Workshops (H Hoyle, Iowa State University, Ames, IA). Agritourism is growing in the Midwest region. Although adding an agritourism segment to an existing farm may seem appealing, numerous risks arise once these farms open and charge a fee for the public to visit.  For example, one illness or injury linked to an agritourism destination could be catastrophic to not only the injured party and the agritourism destination segment, but to the entire farm, ruining the livelihoods of the owners, their families, and employees of these destinations. With the growing number of agritourism destinations, there are currently no injury or illness prevention activities aimed towards these agritourism destinations. In order to provide effective interventions for the prevention of agriculture injury and illness on agritourism destinations, the Visit Iowa Farms Program will work with the Iowa State Pesticide Safety Education Program and the Center for Food Security and Public Health to coordinate three agritourism destination safety and health best practices workshops across Iowa.
      • Anhydrous Ammonia Emergency Response Training Program (D Neenan, National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, Peosta IA). This project involved the development and delivery of an anhydrous ammonia safety program for agricultural producers, family members, and emergency response personnel in North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Minnesota. The interactive program used a new anhydrous ammonia safety trailer. Topics such as anhydrous ammonia safety during transport, machinery safety, chronic health issues, personal protective equipment, basic first aid procedures, and communication were covered. More than 20 trainings were provided through partnerships with local colleges, extension personnel, local agribusinesses, and regional emergency service organizations.

Year 2015–2017

      • Grain Bin Safety and Emergency Prevention among Farm Families (D Neenan, B Kruse, National Education Center for Agricultural Safety [NECAS], Peosta, IA; A Becker, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO). NECAS customized existing grain bin engulfment rescue training designed originally for emergency responders for delivery directly to farmers and farm families. The new training incorporated best practices and a unique hands-on engulfment and retrieval simulator. The training was delivered to more than 200 attendees at 12 locations in four states.
      • Safe Farming, Safe Living: CPR Outreach to the Leut (M Gale, Avera St. Benedict Health Center, Parkston, SD). This program presented certification-level educational information and outreach to eight Hutterite colonies (400 individuals) in South Dakota in order to improve health outcomes of farm-related injuries. Content focused on preparing for emergencies (e.g., calls to responders), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), automated external defibrillator (AED) use, and basic first aid. One hundred twenty six individuals were officially trained in Adult First Aid/CPR/AED (US Red Cross). Farm youth were also trained on how to perform basic first aid and to contact local emergency response personnel. Overall, post survey data demonstrated that colony members felt confident that they could perform CPR, use an AED, and perform first aid in the field.  A YouTube training video about emergency response to a farming incident is currently being prepared.
      • Gove County farm safety and health fairs: ATV safety, emergency response, and educational displays to prevent agricultural injury and fatality in Northwest Kansas (C Nelson, Gove County Medical Center, KS). Study personnel collaborated with multiple stakeholders to design a Farm Safety and Health Fair for farm families in Gove County, Kansas, a rural agricultural community. More than 40 farm children and 35 adults attended the event. The project increased safety awareness about ATV use, handling grain and farm chemicals, and dangers associated with common harvesting activities.  Fifteen children were awarded ATV helmets for participating in training activities. The fair also focused on knowledge of basic first aid/emergency response to help farm families respond quickly and effectively to reduce fatality rates. This training is particularly responsive to the community since, in Western Kansas, a large proportion of farmers live 30 or more miles from a Critical Access Hospital.

Year 2014–2015

      • Family ATV Safety Training (J Mortensen, North Dakota Farm Bureau, Bismark, ND). Two ATV safety classes were provided in rural North Dakota to 56 farm youth and one or both parents. During the training, parent focus groups identified several solutions for reducing ATV injuries among farm youth.  Notable solutions included monitoring the ATV keys and keeping them out of children’s reach, performing frequent safety checks, and purchasing helmets.  The project also led to a radio PSA on ATV Safety Awareness (
      • Safe Farming, Safe Living: Educational Outreach to the Leut (K Lutjens, Avera St. Benedict Health Center, Parkston, SD). To address the large number of agriculture-related injuries in rural South Dakota, Avera St. Benedict Health Center personnel provided culturally appropriate agricultural safety and health training to ~500 residents of the Dakota Hutterite Colonies. Topics included eye protection, heat/cold illnesses, sun and water safety, large animal safety, PTO/Rollover prevention, and ATV safety. The investigators observed a 51% reduction in agriculture trauma-related incidents after the training, and the Hutterite community requested additional future safety trainings.

Year 2013–2014

      • Piloting an occupational ATV/UTV safety workshop for Iowa farmers (C Jennissen, G Denning, K Harland, University of Iowa, Department of Emergency Medicine, Iowa City, IA; A Winborn, Greater Johnson County Rural Health and Safety Clinic). This team developed and delivered a workshop on the safe use of ATVs/UTVs in agriculture. Post-workshop surveys found that 44% of attendees stated they were more likely to wear a helmet when using an ATV after attending the workshop.
      • Promoting Harness and Lifeline Use in Grain Bin Entry for Farm and Elevator Workers through Development, Training, and Distribution of Specific Lifeline Installation/Procedures/Use Training Curriculum (R Aherin, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL; D Hill, Emergency Services Rescue Training Inc., Penn State University, State College, PA). The investigators developed a safety harness and lifeline use curriculum for grain bin entry and pilot tested it among 25 farmers. Project investigators partnered with grain bin manufacturers and a farmer’s cooperative to retrofit older grain bins. This collaboration has influenced the new ASABE x624 Grain Bin Entry Design Standard.

Year 2012–2013

      • Using technology to enhance the flexibility, adaptability of training tools for community-based training in grain handling safety (J Adkisson, Grain and Feed Association of Illinois, Springfield, IL; R Aherin, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL; P Rhomba, Illinois Farm Bureau, Bloomington-Normal, IL). This project built on community partnerships with the development of training tools to promote grain handling safety. Special emphasis was given to designing a visual learning assessment tool to address low literacy participants (e.g., photos and videos).  The materials were assessed by experienced trainers and are now available to the public at The YouTube training videos created with funds allocated to this project have been viewed more than 21,000 times.

Year 2011–2012

      • Web-based interaction encouraging safe and healthy rural-related behavior (S Burgus, Farm Safety 4 Just Kids, Urbandale, IA; K Funkenbusch, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO). Project personnel conducted a pre- and post-survey of farming youth who participated in an agricultural safety and health blog. Users reported that the blog was a useful tool for discussing health and safety topics with other young farmers.  Participants included farm youth in all nine GPCAH states.  The blog had more than 2,700 views and 141 Facebook shares during a one year period.
      • Using community-based partnerships for grain safety awareness and prevention training across the grain handling spectrum (J Adkisson, Grain and Feed Association of Illinois, Springfield, IL; R Aherin, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, IL; P Rhomba, Illinois Farm Bureau, Bloomington-Normal, IL). The project developed and disseminated grain handling safety messages and trainings (printed, PSAs, wallet cards and decals), and supported the construction of the Grain Handling Safety Coalition website (now one of the most popular grain safety information sources available on the web with sustained funding from over 15 organizational members). Public Service Announcements were aired on 70 Farm Bureau affiliate radio stations and were also disseminated through OSHA QuickTakes. Interviews of participants were incorporated into NPRs grain bin fatality story (Howard Berkes, Buried in Grain, 3/24/2013, see Community trainings reached 517 people (students, farmers, elevator employees, others).
    • Prevention of injury, illness, and fatality due to grain entrapment and exposure (D Neenan, National Education Center for Agricultural Safety, Peosta, IA). This project addressed the ongoing burden of grain entrapment deaths within the region by providing four interactive grain safety and rescue training events to over 350 farmers, grain industry employees, and rural volunteer rescue personnel. As of October 2016, there were nine successful grain bin rescues performed by volunteer emergency response personnel who had attended the training.