Farming is not for the faint-hearted. While urban office-workers might fantasise about fresh air, sunshine and lovely scenery, the reality is life on the farm is not always as idyllic. Farmers work long and hard and face many unique challenges that are as hard to predict as they are to control.
Mother Nature has certainly laid down the gauntlet recently, with too much rain in the north and not enough in the south. Other external pressures include a new government, changes to legislation, fluctuating commodity prices and the arrival of new technology to name just a few. DairyNZ wellness and wellbeing leader Dana Carver says many farmers have had a rough time lately.
“If it's not been a flood or drought conditions, then it's been understanding how to protect their farms from Mycoplasma bovis," she said.
Along with these external factors, come the demands of running any business – financial and production planning, managing cash flow, hiring and managing staff, succession planning etc.
Most farmers love the lifestyle and are willing to make substantial sacrifices to stay on farm and run a successful business. For some it does not work that well all the time and there are many opinions about the effects of farming on people’s lives.
Dairy Women’s Network have done extensive research into finding out what is happening on dairy farms in terms of farmer stress and fatigue.
The Dairy Farmer Wellness and Wellbeing Programme that was led by Dairy Women’s Network focused on physical and emotional wellbeing, including reducing stress and fatigue, and building networks to support dairy farmers to improve their health.
They found that the most mentioned farming related cause of stress was workload and that the second most mentioned cause of stress was managing staff.
Thankfully, many in the rural sector understand the unique hardships farmers face and are committed to providing support. That support comes in many forms, from community fun days to Rural Assistance Payments and websites dedicated to rural mental health.
Farming can be socially isolating – especially when the to-do list is long and your nearest neighbour is a good distance away. Social connection is important and taking the time to stay in touch with family, friends and the wider community can really help. At the Farm Source store-hubs, farmers are always welcome to drop in for a coffee and a chat.
In drought-hit Manawatu in February, the Ministry for Primary Industries, Fonterra, DairyNZ and the Rural Support Trust hosted around 100 farmers at a series of BBQ and pool parties.
Spokesman Max Johnston said the idea behind the casual evening events was to cheer people up and help identify those who needed support.
Similarly, a new festival in Kimbolton aims to support farmer wellbeing by encouraging them to enter a sculpture in the NZ Rural Sculpture Awards. On top of the chance to win some serious prize money, organisers say getting creative has a positive impact on mental health.
Tony Waugh of the Kimbolton Art & Sculpture Charitable Trust says the inaugural Festival, which is free and will be held on April 28 in the Kimbolton Domain, is about celebrating the creativity of New Zealand farmers and the value of creativity to our health and wellbeing.
“In a nutshell – making art is good for you. Farming can sometimes be a stressful and solitary occupation. Research shows farmers are over-represented in many of New Zealand's negative health and well-being statistics,” says Tony.
But research also shows participating in visual art activities can have a positive impact on general health and wellbeing, including:
“We all know farmers are very creative and resourceful people when it comes to everyday activities in their farming operation. We are giving them the chance to funnel that creativity into producing a sculpture, enter an awards competition and to display their handiwork publicly. Plus at the end of the day, they get the chance to sell their creation,” says Tony.
Farmers who enter the New Zealand Rural Sculpture Awards have a shot at a prize pool of $11,000 cash. Sculptures will be judged on how they showcase and capture the uniqueness of New Zealand’s rural landscape, its nature and communities.
Entrants are encouraged to give expression to their cultural heritage and their unique experience and interpretation of ‘The Spirit of the Land.’ Sculptures are to be constructed predominantly from recycled farming or associated rural agricultural materials, and any natural or manufactured materials commonly associated with farming or rural landscapes.
Organisers say the Festival will be a colourful and vibrant celebration of the land – with artistic sculptures, fine art, boutique stalls, fabulous foods, stylish vintage vehicles, farm tours, live music and amazing entertainment.Further information about the Kimbolton festival can be found at www.ruralart.nz Farmers wanting further wellbeing information or support can drop in to their nearest Farm Source store, call 0800 RURAL HELP or visit any of the below websites.