Farmers pinpoint changing regulations, financial concerns as greatest cause of mental health challenges

Farmers have pinpointed changing regulations, financial concerns and the public perception of farming as their greatest causes of mental health challenges.

The results come in DairyNZ's 'The View from the Cow Shed' report, released on Tuesday. 

Jim van der Poel, chairman of DairyNZ, said the advent of COVID-19 and the ensuing global financial downturn combined with one of the worst droughts in living memory had brought significant difficulties for farmers all across the country this year, something which was reflected in a survey conducted by the organisation. 

"Farmers are operating in a challenging environment with changing regulations, uncertainties about staffing and a difficult financial outlook," van der Poel said. 

"They are also facing changing weather patterns, high levels of debt and mental health issues. All of these factors impact on their wellbeing."

Sixty percent of farmers cited regulation changes as their biggest cause of mental health challenge while 59 percent of respondents also chose the cause to be financial concerns. The perception of farming in the media and with the public was also chosen by 59 percent of people (respondents could pick more than one option).

Forty-two percent of those asked said concerns over changing regulations kept them awake at night, with 19 percent saying they couldn't sleep because they were worried about their farm's finances.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they or someone on their farm had experienced mental health issues over the last year.

More than half of those questioned - 64 percent - also expressed pessimism about the future of their community, saying they expected things to decline for the community they are part of over the next three years. Thirty percent said they expected things to stay the same and only 6 percent said they thought things would improve.

However, the survey did show 94 percent of respondents were proud to be working in the dairy industry at the moment, with 29 percent of those saying they were extremely proud. 

The survey was conducted between late July and early August, with 248 respondents taking part.

Dr Tim Mackle, DairyNZ's chief executive, said the data from the survey had informed the industry organisation's policy platform for the upcoming election.  

"This election we wanted to give voice to dairy farmers' concerns and priorities to help politicians better understand the issues impacting on farmers. So, we surveyed our dairy farmers and asked them what they thought," Dr Mackle said on Tuesday. 

DairyNZ was calling for more investment in R&D in science relating to the primary sector as well as a clear strategy for science funding to support farmers in reducing their environmental footprint while increasing profit.

Dr Mackle said DairyNZ was also calling on whatever Government is voted in later this year to do more work to future-proof the sector.

This included by working to meet workforce needs through training and recruitment of Kiwis and skilled migrant workers, investing in rural broadband, developing a national water storage strategy to increase water supply in times of drought, developing and enforcing a world-leading biosecurity system, and reforming the RMA to reduce compliance costs of farmers and drive better environmental outcomes.

DairyNZ was also calling for the Government to partner with farmers and support them in meeting new environmental standards, ensure targets for water quality improvements were fair, equitable and scientifically robust, and to review the methane targets in the Zero Carbon Act.

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