Kevin Mitchell: Important to take care of rural community

By Kevin Mitchell

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Kevin Mitchell
Kevin Mitchell

I have real concerns for the mental and emotional health of many of our farmers and their families.

The statistics of increasing mental health issues in rural NZ is quite alarming with the suicide rate per 100,000 people nearly 50% higher for rural than urban and demand for mental health services at an all time high. Some of the reasons for this can be attributed to working in isolation.

Market fluctuations, climate extremes and increasing local and national government compliance issues have also put huge pressures on hard working farming families. Adding to the stress on farmers is being regularly blamed for polluting our rivers and not caring about our environment.

Farmers have a huge investment in infrastructure just to get the water from its source to where it is needed. Investment in farm irrigation projects is a huge financial undertaking that will often take a farming lifetime to pay off even when not directly paying for the water.

Irrigation NZ calculates the cost of water supplied by irrigation at $780 per hectare per year or 14 cents for every cubic metre.

Being able to irrigate pastures and crops enables farmers to bring resilience to their farming systems and protect them from the vagaries of the climate. With the climate predicted to get drier because of global warming it is essential to use irrigation to protect food production and rural livelihoods.

In this current political environment farmers are easy targets because they very visibly use our natural resources of soil, air and water. Farmers are regularly portrayed as enemies of the environment.

Having been a hill country farmer for all my working life and represented the industry for many years, I am proud to call myself a farmer. Like the vast majority of farming families we care deeply for our natural environment and want to leave it in a better state than we found it.

Some past farming practices, especially on intensively farmed properties have certainly resulted in unintended consequences with soil and nutrients lost into our rivers and streams. Research and science have shown the farming community the problem issues and farmers are addressing them. Because farming is a biological system, these changes take time but we are getting results.

The latest report by the Ministry for the Environment [MFE] into the health of our rivers shows an encouraging trend although there is plenty of work to do. The report shows 80% of our waterways are either improving or being maintained. Already 97% of dairy farm waterways are fenced off and collectively they have spent more than a billion dollars on environmental measures over the last 5 years.

In Hawke's Bay, most farmers have put in a huge effort to fence off and plant riparian zones and plant erodible hillsides to help protect our river catchments. Check out the Ballance Farm Environment Award candidates past and present to see the pride and passion our farmers have for looking after the environment and what they are doing about it.

Nationwide farmers have covenanted close to 200,000 hectares through the QE 11 Trust at an opportunity cost of over $1.2 billion. That is a huge area land owners have gifted to New Zealand in perpetuity and shows the commitment farming people have to protecting our environment.

There has to be a lot more balance and understanding when considering the impact farming has on our environment. The MFE report also states that the e-coli level in urban waterways is more than double that in rural. How many urban folk consider their individual impact on the environment, their storm water, sewage, rubbish waste and tyre chemical residue that washes off roads into our rivers and sea.

Rural and urban people are in this together and we will solve our problems much faster and more sustainably when working together.

NZ farming families are still and will continue to be a major part of this country's economic future. They deserve to be supported and encouraged for the incredible job they do, often in extreme conditions. I encourage all non farming folk to put yourselves in their boots, even just for a little while.

Together with Mike Barham, I am a Trustee for the Hawke's Bay Rural Support Trust [HBRST]. HB is part of the East Coast Rural Support Trust and nationwide we have 14 trusts. Rural Support Trusts offer free and confidential advice and support for rural people.

This support service can be financial, farming, employment, relationship, mental health and often cases include several of these areas. I ask all of you to watch and be aware of the health of your family, friends and neighbours.

Support in the right place at the right time can often be crucial in averting a potentially serious situation arising. Our HB Coordinator is Lon Anderson [0272495713] who is a retired banker with a very rural background.

If you know of anyone who might need support or even an understanding listener, please get in touch with the Rural Support team.

Kevin Mitchell is a Trustee on the Hawke's Bay Rural Support Trust. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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