Nineteen-year old Poppy Renton says the lockdown has impacted farmers on a number of fronts. The Maraekakaho-based founder of the now acclaimed Facebook page Hawke's Bay Drought tells Mark Story the initiative has helped to galvanise a hurting farming community.
What was the spark for the Facebook page?
I wanted to create a space where farmers could have support, provide advice, communicate and share their stories with one another. I also wanted to make New Zealanders aware of what farming conditions are like in Hawke's Bay at the moment and how dire the situation actually is. I wanted to make farmers aware that, even though we were in lockdown, they aren't alone. It might not be in person, but there's someone going through the same thing just down the road.
How's the uptake so far?
When I made the page I thought only a few people would join and had no idea how fast it would grow. I hoped for 500 people, but that happened on day two, with 882 reached.
I did not expect it to get to 3500 in 11 days. Wow that's crazy to say, it just amazes me how strong the farming community is and how they have come together to fight this drought.
The almost unprecedented drought coincided with an unprecedented lockdown. How has the latter impacted the already dire situation for farmers?
There have been multiple factors for farmers that the lockdown has negatively affected. Firstly, the closure of sale yards and the fact the meatworks are working at 50 per cent, which is a big burden on farmers as they can't lighten their stock loads, which impacts their planned feed budget and the ability to follow through with very tough decisions that have been made. Also, with Covid-19, farmers can't go anywhere to get off the farm which is mentally tough.
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Depression fell on farms long before the drought. To you, what's the bigger battle?
Farming is always going to be mentally draining, especially for farmers who are very proud and passionate of their stock and land. Farmers are constantly battling the picture that some people try to paint. With Covid-19, the air pollution has decreased significantly but the number of animals hasn't changed much. This, in my eyes, has proven those people wrong. Also you're battling mother nature all the time, whether it be a major drought or floods. Depression is something that everyone will have to deal with at some point in their lives, whether it is yourself or a loved one struggling.
If we get a windfall of rain and pastures green up again, will your FB page morph into something of a slightly different flavour?
With winter approaching, I don't believe this will happen any time soon. I believe that it's exactly what farmers needed, a way to connect with each other in a tough time. It is a place where farmers can get advice, feed, offload stock, and have a friendly chat with other farmers. As many people have told me, it's been a "lifesaver for many". Of course, as the seasons change, the page will morph in some ways, but it is always going to be a positive place for farmers to turn to.
• Check out Poppy's page at facebook.com/groups/240026230568478/
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