Comment: Inspired by an interview with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on The Country, Rangitīkei farmer Andrew Stewart posted the following opinion piece. Since it is Mental Health Awareness Week, he also conducted an informal survey on Facebook to find out what was troubling the rural community.
So far Stewart's post has been shared over 700 times and has stirred up a conversation on social media.
Time to put up, or shut up
A few weeks ago, I turned on the wireless at lunchtime to see if there was anything of interest to listen to.
As luck would have it The Country host Jamie Mackay had our Prime Minister on his programme and they began by discussing some survey results that had just been released from the dairy sector.
DairyNZ conducted a survey called "The view from the cow shed" to highlight to policy makers the issues impacting farmers in the real world.
This was the first time I had heard any mention of the survey and when host Mackay started discussing the results with Jacinda I nearly choked on my lunch.
There were three particular areas of focus they discussed; connectivity, confidence in the future and mental health.
When told that "50 per cent of farmers said they don't have access to the broadband internet they need and 52 per cent don't have adequate mobile reception on farm" our Prime Minister sounded genuinely surprised and mused that she would like to see where the data had come from.
Now I could be wrong, but based on what I heard she had no idea that connectivity is such an issue out on Kiwi farms.
More alarmingly the next topic was farmer's thoughts on where we are heading in the next few years.
The survey concluded "when asked about their community's outlook over the next three years, 64 percent of farmers expect things to decline."
Again, this information was met with genuine surprise that anyone in our Primary Sector could have such a negative outlook.
But the last topic was the one that made me sit up and really pay attention.
The survey stated that, "62 per cent of farmers said they or someone on their farm had experienced mental health issues over the last year – with an uncertain regulatory framework identified as one of the main contributing causes."
I translated this to mean nearly two thirds of those involved in dairying are currently suffering mental health problems, and the government is causing much of that anguish.
Now as a sheep and beef farmer I would argue that these results are just as relevant across our industry, and indeed all the primary sectors in New Zealand.
But I wanted to see if my reaction to what I had heard was a broader reflection on the current state of feeling in the farming sector.
So, I thought I would run my own very simple, one question survey on social media to ask the following question, "what is causing you the most stress/anxiety in 2020?"
There were four answers to choose from: lack of broadband Internet, Covid 19, proposed legislation from the government or the missus (or Mr. of course).
The last answer was just to provide some light-heartedness to the seriousness of the survey.
I then waited a week for answers to come in and when they did, I was shocked by how significantly my gut feeling had been reinforced.
75 per cent of those who responded chose "proposed legislation from the government" as what is causing them the biggest headache in 2020.
Just 15 per cent chose Covid-19 and there was an equal split of 5 per cent each for lack of broadband internet and trouble within the relationship, which is way above my pay grade.
To give these results some perspective, 2020 has been dominated by one topic and that is Covid-19.
Globally there have been nearly 30 million cases and 926,000 people have died from this pandemic.
Here in New Zealand we have been locked down, or up, for months on end.
The economy has been gutted like a fish, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and thousands of businesses have been forced to close for good.
Yet for us farmers, the stress and anxiety associated with the worst global pandemic in a century pales in comparison to what our own government is doing to us.
How could it be that our Primary Industries are suffering so much angst at the hands of a government that relies so heavily on our economic success to get themselves out of a ginormous fiscal hole of debt?
But more importantly, what are we farmers going to do about it?
I often hear a term bandied about that goes something like this: "Oh, but if we are not in the tent during these negotiations we will be shut out and that is not good for the industry."
Well I have a different philosophy on other people deciding the future of my career, my family's livelihood and the land we hold so dear.
Sometimes those inside the tent propose things so unpalatable that the tent needs to be burnt to the ground to show that those outside don't appreciate their lives being messed with.
We are at that stage now. It doesn't matter if you are a cow, sheep, wool, fruit, cereal, grain, organic, regenerative, chicken, goat or camel farmer, we need to act decisively and with unity.
Because if we don't, our primary industries that are currently holding this economy afloat will slowly sink into a quagmire of legislative slop over the next decade.
As an industry it's time to put up, before we are forced to shut up.