Farm­ers stressed by debt, weather and big work­load

Re­search is high­light­ing the key things that cause stress to dairy farm­ers, with the aim of putting bet­ter sup­port in place for farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Ali Tocker re­ports

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery -

Re­search on 1000 dairy farm­ers na­tion­wide by Hamil­ton­head­quar­tered AgRe­search re­veals the top causes of stress for dairy farm­ers are fi­nances, work­load, re­la­tion­ships and health.

The re­search leader, se­nior so­cial sci­en­tist Dr Neels Botha, said the most im­por­tant mes­sage was that farm­ers and their fam­i­lies should seek help for stress be­fore is­sues be­came crises.

Botha said the four lead­ing causes of dairy farmer stress were not ranked in any par­tic­u­lar or­der, as all were equally valid and de­served at­ten­tion.

‘‘With fi­nances, farm­ers with high debt lev­els and other fi­nan­cial pres­sures can ex­pe­ri­ence high lev­els of stress. For some farm­ers this can be­come chronic stress, where they worry about their fi­nances all the time,’’ Botha said.

‘‘Stress from work­load re­lates to the sheer amount of work peo­ple have to do on farms. This is par­tic­u­larly the case with calv­ing, when there is so much on and farm­ers can’t do on­go­ing du­ties while they tend to cows calv­ing.’’

In re­la­tion­ships, farm­ers could ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­cul­ties with farm staff and in farm man­age­ment, Botha said.

‘‘If you em­ploy some­one who gives you a bit of trou­ble, it re­ally bugs some farm­ers. Prob­lems can arise with farms that were once small but have now had to bring in out­siders, as farm sizes get big­ger and farm­ers get older,’’ Botha said.

Health is­sues caus­ing stress for dairy farm­ers re­late ei­ther to their own health or the health of their fam­ily mem­bers.

‘‘With farm­ers get­ting older in New Zealand, age-re­lated con­di­tions can present chal­lenges while do­ing phys­i­cal farm­ing work, and a lot of farm­ers have older par­ents to care for, which can cause stress.

‘‘This all ties up with work­load and not hav­ing time to do what you need to do.’’ The re­search has been car­ried out over the past three years and will continue for at least an­other four years.

The work is part of a Dairy Farmer Well­ness and Well­be­ing Project, co-funded by Hamil­ton-based in­dus­try good or­gan­i­sa­tion DairyNZ and the Gov­ern­ment’s Pri­mary Growth Part­ner­ship.

Botha said the re­search is de­signed to build a pic­ture of what is hap­pen­ing on farms na­tion­wide, so bet­ter sup­port net­works and re­sources can be de­vel­oped to help farm­ers be­fore they hit the wall.

The re­search in­volves na­tional sur­veys of farm­ers at in­dus­try events and field days.

Most peo­ple who at­tend these events are older peo­ple, in­clud­ing farm own­ers and man­agers, Botha said.

AgRe­search hopes to ex­tend the sur­veys to younger peo­ple in the in­dus­try and farm work­ers.

‘‘We will try and spread our wings this year and get out to big prop­er­ties with staff, and to other types of events younger peo­ple would go to.’’

There was also po­ten­tial for the re­search to be ex­tended to other in­dus­tries, such as the beef and lamb sec­tor, Botha said.

Other stress-re­lated re­search car­ried out pre­vi­ously as part of the project looked at the top causes of stress for un­der­pres­sure dairy farm­ers in the Waikato.

That work iden­ti­fied the top three sources of stress spe­cific to the re­gion as fi­nan­cial pres­sures in­clud­ing high debt lev­els, ex­treme weather events such as the re­gion’s three-year drought from 2008, and in­creased en­vi­ron­men­tal obli­ga­tions in­clud­ing Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil he­li­copter checks.

The coun­cil has an­nounced it will cut the num­ber of ran­dom he­li­copter checks it does of dairy farm ef­flu­ent sys­tems, and put more fo­cus on high-risk soil ar­eas and ground-based vis­its.

The coun­cil said its move was not a re­ac­tion to the Waikato stress re­search, and em­pha­sised that any dairy farm in the re­gion could still be ran­domly checked by he­li­copter at any time.

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