'A real concern': Mayors worry farmer suicides could outnumber COVID-19 deaths without Government help

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

Three Waikato Mayors are calling on the Government to support local farmers through a once-in-a-lifetime drought, amid fears the number of farmers driven to suicide could eventually outnumber the total COVID-19 deaths in New Zealand.

The Mayors of Thames-Coromandel, Matamata Piako and Hauraki District Councils on Monday delivered a message to the Government to ask for support.

"Get a mayoral relief fund set up," says Toby Adams, Hauraki District Mayor.

"[It's] no different to what's been set up in the Hawke's Bay; help our farmers out by sourcing feed for them and sorting out some cartage costs."

While the rainclouds looked promising, Monday's drizzle barely registered as a drop in the bucket. 

"This is nothing; this is absolutely going to go nowhere on the farm," Sandra Goudie, Thames-Coromandel District Mayor said.

"If you think this bit of rain is something, it ain't. It's nothing. We need at least 900ml - we're getting barely five. And some of those farms out there are just rubble."

With paddocks covered in more dirt than grass, feeding their cows is farmers' top priority. 

Brent Aitchison owns two farms just out of Ngatea and expects to spend an extra $400,000 on feed this year. He says while it might look green behind him, don't be deceived. 

"We were fortunate enough to go up in a helicopter the other day and have a look down. Not a good idea, it looks far worse up in the air," he told Newshub.

But the other issue on everyone's mind is mental health. 

"I don't want COVID-19 deaths to be 21 and the suicides at 81 or 100," Ash Tanner, Matamata-Piako District Mayor said. "That's a real concern."

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584