Former rural support worker speaks out over MPI response to M bovis stress

A former rural support worker says the impact of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak on farmers could have long-term effects on the future of farming in New Zealand.

Two rural support workers from a trust under contract to MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries) have quit their senior roles, saying the agency's response to farmer welfare during the Mycoplasma bovis response has been totally inadequate.

The workers were hired to help farmers cope as the Ministry for Primary Industries locked down farms and animals were sent to slaughter. The original response plan to the crisis stated that "farmer welfare" would be at the centre of its response.

But some of those hired say poor communication from MPI continues to cause anguish and uncertainty among many farmers.

Former Rural Support Trust Coordinator Angela Cushnie told The AM Show the problem was serious.

"I have lived in mid-Canterbury all my life and I haven't ever seen anything that impacts so many people."

Angela Cushnie said farmers are hurting.
Angela Cushnie said farmers are hurting. Photo credit: Newshub

She said a national plan developed by MPI made good sense, but was never followed up on.

"It feels like early on in the journey they threw that out the window and they have been scrambling ever since."

She said many families are hurting, and were in desperate need of help.

"My concern is that this will have a legacy effect," she said.

"We now have farmers who are no longer interested in farming, and that crosses down to the next generation."

"We have grandparents ringing up concerned about their children and grandchildren, we've got teachers who are seeing it, day to day, the stress and the burden."

"Wives who are saying 'my husband isn't farming anymore, he comes home and goes straight to bed, he's not eating, he barks at the children and gets really angry.'"

She said it was soul-destroying to hear those stories on a regular basis and try and communicate them to the decision makers.

"You feel like you are just not being effective."

MPI Response Director Geoff Gwynn told Newshub that the Ministry takes the role of rural support workers seriously.

"We have listened and we have made changes based on that."

When asked why two rural support workers have resigned, he said you'd "have to ask them".

He said MPI has taken action, such as paying contractors to take over farm operations if stressed farmers need time out.

"We have made changes," he said. "Are they fast enough? Are there some areas we are still not as good as we could be? Absolutely."

If you need support contact: 

Rural Support Trust                      0800 787 254

1737                                                 Talk or Text

Mbovis Affected Farmers Facebook