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Despite recent reports of economic uncertainty and a raft of other business pressures, the rural business community continues to report sustained growth, according to the latest MYOB Business Monitor.

The nationwide survey of over 1,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) found nearly a third (32 per cent) of rural business operators said their revenue had increased since March 2018, while just 14 per cent said it had decreased. In contrast, more than a fifth (21 per cent) of all SMEs said their business' revenue or gross turnover had fallen since March last year.

However, those specifically from the primary industries sector did not enjoy the same level of growth. Only 23 per cent of primary industry operators said their revenue had increased since last year, while 16 per cent said their revenue had decreased.

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Looking ahead, 29 per cent of businesses operating in a rural town or region said their revenue will be up in 12 months' time, while 26 per cent of the primary industries sector said the same. In contrast, 32 per cent of all SMEs said they expect to see their revenue increase over the next 12 months. Only 17 per cent of rural business owners said their revenue will be down by March 2020, compared to 19 per cent of all SMEs and the primary industry.

Findings from MYOB Business Monitor

• Nearly one third (32 per cent) of rural business operators report revenue growth

• Less than one quarter (23 per cent) of primary industry businesses report an increase in revenue

• One in four rural business operators report experiencing a mental health condition

MYOB country manager Ingrid Cronin-Knight said the rural sector is a strong and resilient community, whose success is critical to New Zealand's economy however more needs to be done to support those businesses in the primary industries sector.

"Made up of hard working Kiwi families, skilled migrant workers, and a growing group of entrepreneurs in agriculture, forestry and fishing, the primary industries sector is hugely important to our small economy, and the success of communities all over the country," she said.

"Although overall rural businesses are performing well, the slowed revenue growth in the primary industries sector will be affecting the overall confidence of this sector, resulting in below average optimism for 2019.

"There is no doubt the sector is experiencing rising costs, technology disruption, shrinking price margins, cash flow challenges and pressure to meet compliance obligations – all of which impact confidence.

"Confidence in their business prospects has an impact on the sector's willingness to invest. While most rural operators and agribusiness owners will maintain their investment in plant and equipment, IT systems and R&D this year, few have indicated they will increase it over the next 12 months," said Cronin-Knight.

Twenty-six percent of rural business owners said investment in plant and equipment will increase this year, while 11 per cent said they would put more resources into R&D. Only one in ten will increase the amount they spend on IT.

Wellbeing and mental health

This year, MYOB asked rural business owners about their mental health and wellbeing in order to shine a light on this important issue affecting the sector.

According to the survey, one in four (26 per cent) rural operators report experiencing a mental health condition since starting or taking over their business. Sixty-eight percent of those who reported a mental health condition said they had experienced depression, while 56 per cent said the condition experienced was anxiety.

"The Government's Mental Health Inquiry states that one in five New Zealanders will experience a mental health condition or significant mental distress in their lifetime.

MYOB research therefore puts rural operators at greater risk of experiencing significant mental distress than the average New Zealander," said Cronin-Knight.

"While there's no single reason for this, we do know that business owners – rural or not – often put more pressure on themselves to perform, maintain their business, pay staff and earn a living.

"Unfortunately, in a rural context these pressures can be heightened by feelings of isolation and a lack of immediate and accessible support."

Cronin-Knight said it's also common for business owners to put in longer hours, skip meals and cut back on sleep to get things done – which can lead to greater stress, anxiety and in some cases, depression.

"With this in mind, it's important to recognize the importance of self-care. This year, we should all take stock, and be aware of our mental health and wellbeing – seeking out help from family, friends, or a qualified counsellor when possible."

Where to get help:
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.