Weather extremes resulted in a particularly busy year for volunteers with Otago Rural Support Trust (ORST), with floods and droughts responsible for many of the 300 calls it received.

Chairman Gavan Herlihy, of Wanaka, said the floods on the Taieri and in South Otago on July 21, followed by the extended drought during the summer, meant the trust's 0800 787 254 number rang more often, and volunteers and co-ordinators provided more support to farmers and their families than in other years.

''The ORST would have had about 300 approaches for assistance,'' Mr Herlihy said.

''Many can be handled by a single phone call while others may require a number of one-on-one visits.''


He said the trust worked closely with DairyNZ during the floods.

''Rather than go down the same driveways, DairynZ was the eyes and ears for referral work [for the trust].''

The trust also provided financial assistance with feed during that time.

''It didn't drain our coffers to any extent and it was a psychological boost to farmers struggling at that time.''

The trust, in conjunction with Otago Federated Farmers, approached Minister for Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O'Connor to have the drought in Southland, Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and Clutha districts designated an adverse event in last January.

''Within 24 hours it started to rain and the same thing happened in Taranaki and the West Coast,'' he said.

The autumn was ''brilliant'' as prices for lamb and mutton improved, and the beef market was buoyant. That resulted in fewer calls to the trust's 0800 number.

''There were no surprises the 0800 number was very quiet, which was positive.''


The trust appointed new trustees, including Maryanne Kane, of Tapanui, Tom Pinckney, of Northburn Station, near Cromwell, and Joanne Paterson, of Ranfurly.

''In the spring we appointed a new co-ordinator, Lindsay Purvis.''

Quite soon into Mr Purvis's tenure, two farm workers committed suicide in North Otago.

''He and the trust were involved with assisting those who had been affected by the tragic circumstances,'' Mr Herlihy said.

''We are often called to assist with those who are left behind.''

The majority of referrals to the trust came from people from within the industry, including veterinarians, stock and station agents and fellow farmers.

The trust also supported several GoodYarn project workshops, which outlined how people could provide assistance or identify those who might need referrals.

It also helped to bring Marlborough farmer and author Doug Avery to the region.

Mr Herlihy said Mycoplasma bovis provided its own special challenges for trusts, although most of the affected farms were in Southland and North Otago.

''We in Otago live in hope there will be no further escalation,'' he said.

-By Yvonne O'Hara

Southern Rural Life