Rural Support Trust helps Otago farmers cope in testing times

by Kim Bowden - Dec 14, 2023

"It's about farmers helping farmers through challenging times."

That's how Northburn Station's Tom Pinckney describes the Rural Support Trust.

He's the new chair of the national organisation's Otago branch, and he knows as well as anyone what it can feel like to need help.

Ten years ago tragedy struck on the farm, located a short drive along State Highway 8 out of Cromwell.

"We had what we call a burn off, which is a not unusual thing, particularly in hill-country farming, and one of our staff members got trapped in it and died. It was pretty traumatic, as you can imagine," Mr Pinckney says.

At that time, he'd never heard of the Rural Support Trust, but a farming mate put him on to them.

"You're all overwhelmed with everything that's going on, you're thinking, 'What's going to happen?'. The support trust came in, if not the next day, then very soon after it happened. It was a great comfort."

The trust has coordinators that come onto farms in situations like that which occurred at Northburn Station.

Mr Pinckney says there are two coordinators working in Otago and they 'get' rural life.

"They speak the same language."

He says sometimes it helps just to talk things through.

"A problem shared is a problem halved, for a start. But, the second, and arguably most important thing the coordinators do is be connectors.

"If they perceive that a farmer might benefit from some professional help - and that could be helping with farm planning, like from a farm advisor, it could be mental wellness support - they will connect them with the appropriate people and possibly even fund some of that too."

While Mr Pinckney reckons farmers are generally pretty good at "just getting on with solving their own problems", some things are arguably out of their control.

Extreme weather events - generally drought in this neck of the woods - rising costs on farms, and compounding regulations top of the list of potential stressors.

"I'm not sure that farming's got harder inside the farm gate.

"But it's got harder in that there are many more eyes on what we do, as there are on everybody on what we all do in life.

"Thirty years ago (when I started) you just got on and did your thing.

"Now, external pressures are a lot greater than they ever were."

While any farmer will get a vet to sort a crook animal or a mechanic to check over a problem tractor, they may be slower to get expert help for themselves.

But Mr Pinckney doesn't think those in the male dominated farming industry - although he notes it's increasingly less so these days - are necessarily any better or worse at asking for help than those in, say, the trades.

What he does know is the work of the trust makes a difference.

He's hesitant to share too many details of this story, incredibly aware of maintaining confidentiality in tight rural circles.

But he says he had a bloke come up to him one day while he was manning an information kiosk about the trust at an event.

He says he told him: "I don't know where I'd be without you guys."

Keen to know more? You can connect with Otago Rural Support Trust online here or reach them on 0800 787 254 (If you are calling from an Otago landline you will automatically go through to the team's administrator. but if you are calling from a mobile select option three then option five).



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