New Zealand's largest dairy co-op has also announced that its Employee Assistance Programme, which was introduced during the pandemic and provides counselling services to employees and co-op farmers, will be extended indefinitely.
According to 2020 research from DairyNZ, 62% of dairy farmers said they or someone on their farm experienced mental health issues in the previous 12 months.
Fonterra’s Richard Allen, group director, farm source, thinks that developing a national strategy is ‘the right thing to do’.
“For generations the RST has been standing by rural communities and have a long history of showing up and helping when times are tough,” he said. “Fonterra has worked successfully with the RST for some time but more action is needed and this new partnership will help strengthen our wellbeing support throughout the country.”
The co-op has partnered with the Trust on several occasions, including sponsoring TV presenter-turned sheep farmer Matt Chisholm’s Time Out Tour during which he visited rural communities to raise awareness of mental health issues and share his own struggles. Fonterra also raised over $100,000 for RST’s 2021 appeal to help South Island farmers affected by floods.
“Developing a national, long-term strategy with clear objectives and actions that address mental health and other rural challenges is simply the right thing to do,” Allen continued.
“Farming is an animal and produce business, but it’s also very much a human business. It’s right to show up for communities during events and emergencies, but the partnership also recognizes an ongoing need for support of, and commitment to, New Zealand communities.”
Neil Bateup, chair of the National Council of RSTs, added: “Kiwi farmers and growers run pretty special businesses, but they’re businesses that are vulnerable to a bunch of significant external factors - many of which are out of their control. A good example is the extreme weather and flooding experienced across parts of New Zealand recently. Farmers are also feeling increasing pressures due to things like rising on-farm costs, the labor pinch and increasing compliance obligations.
“We’ve come a long way in the last decade or so, in that there’s more recognition that mind health is just as important as physical wellbeing, but we know there’s still a lot of work to do in this area.”