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Help wanted . . . Jane Smith is part of a rural support group which is looking for volunteers with life experience, who are willing to sit down and "have a cuppa'' and offer guidance to farmers who might be struggling. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/HENRY SMITH

Steps are being put in place to help North Otago farmers struggling with the challenges of drought, heading into winter.

Otago Rural Support Trust co-ordinator Lindsay Purvis said winter crops had failed in places, but some parts of the district were worse than others.

A Zoom meeting was being held this week involving farmers “dotted strategically throughout Otago” to gather information for a drought monitor group, he said.

“The idea of having all these farmers together is to get a little report from them, as to what’s happening in their area.”

The meetings would be held between monthly and six-weekly. Their purpose was to advise the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) of the drought situation and whether the classification needed to be extended, and also to provide a framework in the event of future droughts, Mr Purvis said.

“If it looks like these weather events are going to be a bit more regular . . . I think there are going to be a bit more of them.”

He had helped to set up something similar in South Canterbury.

Retired farmer Dave Ruddenklau would chair the group. He had extensive knowledge of the farming industry, which included farming through drought, Mr Purvis said.

Five Forks sheep and beef farmer Jane Smith, who runs the 1300ha Newhaven Farms with her husband, Blair, said they had “a little bit” of irrigation, but it was definitely dry where they were.

Mrs Smith was part of an MPI rural support group, who was hoping to hear from retired farmers or those with “life experience and farming experience”, who could offer an ear and some advice to those who were struggling with the mounting pressures of the industry.

“It’s really hard to analyze your own business and your own situation, and especially when you’re under pressure, and we all feel that way,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s quite good, on a non-confrontational basis, for someone to come in and have what we’d call a good yarn, I guess . . . over a cuppa and just trying to see, I guess, the wood from the trees.”

Farmers often did not want to put their hand up, because they did not think they were experienced enough, she said.

expert in anything, apart from maybe life and farm experience, and I guess . . . having a confidential open conversation.

“We’ve all been there, and we all are there, you know, in terms of not being able to self-assess our own situation.”

Discussions around mental health in farming were more easily had these days, and “recognising when you’re under pressure and when other people are under pressure”, she said.

“Just having a really wide conversation that’s about how things are going, and I guess to be able to help see a way forward, because there are so many pressures on and off the farm now for farmers, that it’s easy to be overwhelmed.”

Those interested in helping with this initiative, or farmers needing help, were encouraged to contact the Rural Support Trust on 0800 787 254 and they would be put in touch with a local contact.