All Black Sam Whitelock reveals the crisis that's worse than COVID-19 for many Kiwis

While the impact of COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the economy, Kiwis in many rural parts of the country have been battling another harsh reality - drought.

Farmers in Hawke's Bay have been dealing with the driest conditions there in living memory and are under huge pressure.

All Black lock Sam Whitelock says farm life in the region is a "tough reality" right now.

Whitelock, who also acts as an ambassador for Farmstrong, a national wellbeing programme for rural communities, owns an 830-hectare sheep and cattle farm in Hawke's Bay that his aunt and uncle run. 

Although he is currently off the farm and back training for his day job, he spent the lockdown there with his family and saw firsthand how difficult things are.

"I think for most farmers the whole lockdown thing's been pretty tough," Whitelock told The Project on Thursday. 

"They haven't been able to get off farm and get away. They're obviously looking at land that normally produces a lot of feed and at the moment there's just no feed there. 

"[In] our situation we had cows on the road just trying to eat whatever grass they could find - it's pretty tough going up there at the moment."

Seeing animals go hungry was particularly hard, he said.

"Obviously every farmer absolutely loves their animals and they want to do the best thing for their animals so obviously giving them enough feed is one the hard things to do at the moment.

"It's pretty hard when you'd like to give them as much as they can eat but you just can't do it."

With the conditions so bad, many people have had to use feed they put aside for winter, meaning they will struggle in the coming months.

"It's not going to be nice for a lot of people."

For those in rural farming communities, dealing with the drought has been tougher than the impact of COVID-19, Whitelock said.

"Obviously what's going on around the world and with New Zealand is not good as well but I think it's just probably just stacking up on top of each other."

With stress mounting for many struggling to get by, Whitelock advised people to "ring up a mate and just have a yarn, just say how they're getting on".

"I know for myself when I'm under stress or under a bit of pressure just talking to someone definitely helps. Sometimes I don't need them to say anything back, I just need them to listen."