Farmer mental health highlighted
Recently I attended a mental wellbeing seminar, which really brought home to me how lucky we are to have the likes of John Kirwan promoting mental health issues and how to improve mental wellness.
The importance of open discussion on mental health cannot be understated.
This is an issue which affects many in the agricultural industries as the combination of geographical isolation and long hours can quickly become overwhelming.
Having Kirwan stand up and talk openly about his experiences has reassured men particularly, that they can and should take steps to improve their mental health before their situation deteriorates to a drastic point. Given the real stresses in agriculture, it is good to see that on-farm mental health and wellbeing was a priority in the Department of Labour’s Agriculture Sector Action Plan released last month.
Most people will recognise farming is a physically demanding job. What can be less obvious to outsiders is the mental and emotional pressure it exerts as well.
Stress factors include debt levels, exposure to a fluctuating global market and our highly unpredictable weather.
The 2011-12 season was one out of the box for Waikato farmers but doesn’t make up for three previous years of drought.
It is gut-wrenching to watch feed crops fail, as they did for many farmers across Southland this year, leading to hard decisions on stock numbers and production.
There are many factors that mean paying debt or kids’ school fees, go down the drain. In farming it can feel as if you are the central pivot on which everything relies.
So much pressure on one set of shoulders is a dangerous position to be in.
With farmers being champions at trying to do everything themselves, it is no wonder they are prone to stress-related illnesses including depression which, can lead to suicide. One way to ensure the pressures don’t become overwhelming is to take time out with family and we have to also allow our staff to do the same. While there can be a lurking fear the farm will fall apart if we are not there to oversee things, the reality is it should not be this way. A bit of planning and delegating means you can step away for a couple of days, or weeks.
I take my hat off to the Ministry of Transport which has proved very constructive in their consultation around new agricultural vehicle rules.
That is why, though well attended by contractors, I was disappointed so few farmers went to the workshop in Te Awamutu recently.
When it comes to new regulations, government departments often fail to really listen to and implement the good sense ideas from those most affected.
The ministry seems to be bucking that trend. The changes to the rules seem largely to follow common sense and farmers will really benefit, perhaps even more so than contractors, from the changes.
The proposed rules around tractors seem to be very sensible with less compliance costs for farmers.
Just one example of the savings made would be exempting agricultural vehicles licensed to travel up to 40kmh from licence fees, periodic inspection and road user charges.
They would still need to be registered and road worthy. With these practical solutions on the table, it would have been great to see a bit more farmer support.
It was interesting to note that in 66 per cent of crashes involving agricultural vehicles, the other driver was at fault.
Visibility is a big concern for anyone taking a slow machine on public roads, which is why many people use orange flashing lights to warn other motorists.
Farmers have been using these flashing lights outside the law for years.
I think using these sorts of warning systems is a good idea because they ensure slow-moving vehicles are clearly visible and give other motorists plenty of warning to be careful as they approach. It is not a legal requirement unless the vehicle is oversized but is in the interests of public safety.
Winter is coming and is the season of change. If you are driving on rural roads, expect stock, tractors, machinery and people moving house.
Please show some courtesy and patience.