Mental health, employment and environment among farmers' top concerns

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Farmers visiting Fieldays say more needs to be done to improve rural mental health.

Farmers have a lot on their minds but improving rural mental health is a common concern.

Climate change, the environment and employment were among the top concerns for farmers surveyed at Fieldays on Thursday.

However, they all agreed rural mental health was a major issue and more needed to be done to tackle it.

Sheep and beef farmer Nigel McLeod said his main concerns for the year ahead were around greenhouse gas emissions and the Government's Billion Trees programme. 

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"With good farmland being taken for trees rather than farming sheep and beef, where's that all going to end?

"At what point is the New Zealand farmer going to stand up and make a stand against some of the issues that are facing us?"

He also said there needed to be more support for rural communities, where shrinking populations and isolation could be a challenge for some people.  

Climate change, the environment and employment were among the concerns for farmers at Fieldays.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Climate change, the environment and employment were among the concerns for farmers at Fieldays.

On his own farm at Onewhero in North Waikato, McLeod encouraged open communication.

"We try to talk, sit down and have cups of tea on a regular basis and just talk things through," he said.

"I guess a lot of it happens at home, so if they've got issues at home as much as what's going on out on the farm, we try to talk about it as much as we can."

Kerikeri's Charles Otway said there needed to be more recognition of the seriousness of the issue.

"There's a farmer committing suicide every month and in some areas more than that," he said.

Otway didn't employ any staff and said his wife was a great support.

"She keeps and eye on me, making sure I don't overdo it.

"It helps having faith in Christ, too. That makes a big difference."

Matt McLeod makes time away from the farm a priority for himself and his staff.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF
Matt McLeod makes time away from the farm a priority for himself and his staff.

For Gisborne's Matt McLeod, staffing was a key issue. 

"Not a lot of guys are actually interested in coming into the sheep and beef industry, where dairy is probably promoting it more.  

"We're a bit slack on it and we need something to change and promote it a bit more, that it is a good career."

McLeod's staff included a shepherd, two general workers and two cadets and said employers needed to talk with their teams and make sure they were OK.

"A lot of guys on these big stations out the back don't see a lot of people and they tend to stick to themselves."

He made time away from the farm a priority for himself and his workers.

"We go diving or hunting away but even just taking them into town on a Friday afternoon to pick up supplies – it's a bit of a change. 

"Just getting off farm is the main thing, and getting them to talk to someone else."

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