This time of year we normally seek nominations for our annual Citizen Awards.

As we respond to Covid-19, we've decided to ask for these a little later this year instead. In the meantime I'm catching up with a few of our previous recipients to chat about Covid-19 and hear their thoughts on what this means for our community as a whole.

This week I spoke to Margaret Vickers (2000 recipient and Outstanding Award recipient 2019) and John Sextus (1995 recipient) on how our farming community is managing throughout this response.

With the farming industry being classified an essential service we know there hasn't been a huge amount of change to their work on a daily basis. I wondered what challenges farmers will be facing as we move forward and what opportunities and advice Margaret and John have for our farming community.

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Margaret Vickers.
Margaret Vickers.

Margaret says, "It's largely been farming as usual, almost, but I was concerned for the welfare of farmers due to the social isolation, particularly those who farm alone."

Thankfully there are strong support services in place to assist farmers under stress.

Difficult times are not a new experience for many farmers but the stress is usually brought about by weather events, Mycoplasma or financial downturns. Farmers are a hardy, resilient bunch and I agree with Margaret's comment, "they are prepared to knuckle down and get on with the job in front of them".

Margaret believes a positive outcome has been the "public perception of farmers has changed for the better, we are keeping the country running". Few could argue with that. Her advice going forward is sound — have a plan, seek advice from your support networks and it's important to remember you are not alone. Can't argue with that either.

John agreed Covid-19 had not impacted greatly on farmers and felt the common farming challenges of weather, grass growth and the dairy pay out were the immediate challenges.

John Sextus.
John Sextus.

He also commented on the low interest rates at the moment which helped keep farming viable. Recalling a period in the 1980s when interest rates reached a ridiculous 25 per cent, he was happy to offer some solid financial advice based on his own experience. "Pay down as much debt as possible, reduce mortgage and don't go silly on capital expenditure," he says.

Many of us would have heard similar words from our parents and others. They are words of wisdom that could apply to anyone, not just farmers.

As an aside, John's daughter-in-law who is on the farm now, has noticed a significant reduction in the amount of rubbish on the roadside of their state highway property due to the lockdown.

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A small bonus you might say, but it highlights the fact that roadside litter thrown from the vehicles of passing motorists is an environmental problem that need not happen.

Keep a watch, I will share my Covid-19 conversations with other Citizen Award recipients over the next few weeks in the Stratford Press.