Stress too much for Kiwi farmers – 14 suicides in six months – hard to believe really?

Four deaths in December alone as rural sector feels financial pressure.
Several industry experts blame high levels of rural debt for increased stress on farmers. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Several industry experts blame high levels of rural debt for increased stress on farmers. Photo / Brett Phibbs

At least four farmers have taken their lives since Fonterra cut its milk payout forecast for the coming season.

On December 10, the dairy giant dropped its payout forecast for 2014-15 to an eight-year low of $4.70 a kilogram of milk solids.

That’s nearly half the $8.40 paid in the 2013-14 season and is estimated to mean an income drop for farmers of $6.6 billion.

Federated Farmers dairy industry group vice-chairman Kevin Robinson confirmed to the Herald on Sunday that it was aware of the December deaths.

“There’s been discussion through Federated Farmers email about them,” he said.

Several industry experts blame high levels of rural debt for increased stress on farmers.

In total, 14 farmers have taken their lives in the past six months, Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said.

The most recent four deaths were also confirmed by Te Aroha farmer Sue McKay, the administrator of a private Facebook-based support group.

She added: “I also know some local hospitals have a number of farmers in them from attempted suicide. If there’s three in one ward alone, there will be more in other hospitals.”

Federated Farmers took an advocacy approach to mental health, said Katie Milne, its West Coast president and the group’s mental health spokeswoman.

It made sure farmers were aware of the resources available in the community and asked members to keep an eye on neighbours.

Financial pressure was a big burden.

Younger farmers and other new entrants to the industry often battled, not having the backing that an established farm had.

“If they reach the depths of depression and can’t think straight, financial pressure is one of the things that puts them in that spot.”

The Rural Support Trust – set up to help people and families in the rural community – was also on hand to offer assistance.

Its advocates include Urenui farmer John White, aged 58, who tried to take his life in his early 50s.

He believed the reduced payouts would be of concern for many farmers.

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