Farmer men­tal health high­lighted

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By JAMES HOUGHTON

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.

JAMES HOUGHTON

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