CONCERN about the mental health of the state’s dairy farmers, in the wake of announcements by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra in the past few weeks, was highlighted by the Premier Daniel Andrews during a visit South Gippsland last Friday.
The package of measures he announced, after a kitchen table chat with Nerrena dairy farmers, Terry and Janine Clark, was all about supporting “dairy farmers and their families experiencing emotional and financial stress” as a result of “the global fall of milk prices and the decision by Murray Goulburn and Fonterra to retrospectively cut the prices paid to producers”.
It has clearly taken its toll.
And it was a tearful Janine Clark who spoke to the Melbourne media pack after Mr Andrews’ departure, expressing her concern for fellow farmers.
“People at the moment are still in shock. At the meeting (with Murray Goulburn), they couldn’t stop shaking their heads. I thought: “Can they even do that? Can they take back the money they have already paid us?” said Janine.
“We have to soldier on and do the best we can but being aware of our emotional health is very important. It can be quite an isolated existence in the dairy industry. We’ve got to reach out to each other and make sure everyone is OK.”
The Premier had a similar message.
“We need to stand together with our dairy farming families and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Mr Andrews said to the assembled media against the backdrop of cows grazing contentedly on now-lush, green pasture.
Channels 9, 7, ABC and WinTV, ABC Radio, the Weekly Times and the local media; the Sentinel-Times and Star, were all there.
And they gave the issue and the Clarks blanket coverage on the evening news.
“What people need to know back in Melbourne is that these farmers are absolutely efficient, among the best farmers in the world, so there’s no easy cut that can be made, no quick fix.
“This announcement has come completely out of the blue without warning. That’s why it has had such an impact.”
He also said that while there would be further announcements coming out of a Task Force meeting convened by the Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, also last Friday, he expected Murray Goulburn and Fonterra to stump up cash for programs and initiatives as well.
But as concerned as authorities are for the health and wellbeing of those affected by the recent announcements, reports and rumours of farmers taking their own lives as a result are completely unconfirmed.
A spokesperson for the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria (UDV) told the ‘Sentinel Times’ today that while they take such reports seriously, and will investigate all of them in conjunction with the authorities, and agencies like Beyondblue and Lifeline, none have been confirmed as being the result of the milk price announcements.
“We’ve heard the rumours and the comments made by Alan Jones on radio and a Tweet by outgoing Federal MP for Murray, Sharman Stone.
“And there’s also been general discussion in the community about it but we haven’t been able to confirm any suicides as a result of the Murray Goulburn and Fonterra announcements.”
The Tweet by Sharman Stone on May 13 reads as follows:
“Rumours are several dairy farmers have now taken their lives since the Fonterra and MG crash in milk returns announced. A tragic situation.”
UDV Vice President, John Versteden from Longwarry, was also at the Nerrena announcement last Friday.
“There have been a few reports on Facebook and the like but none of them confirmed. However the emotional wellbeing is a concern. That’s what this response is all about.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re as resilient as we can be, health wise and programs like ‘Look Over the Farm Gate’, administered by GippsDairy, can be helpful.
“We were already working through issues involved with the drought and stock and domestic water shortages and this will be an extension of that.
“We’re encouraging people to get out and talk about it and also to keep an eye on their neighbours. Drop in and say ‘hello’. Everyone responds differently. They might also have other stuff going on in their lives, you don’t know.”
With that in mind, GippsDairy is rolling out two ‘Workshops: Finances, Feed and Friends’ days at Korumburra this Wednesday, May 25 (10.45am – 1pm) at the Korumburra Showgrounds and at Meeniyan on Thursday, May 26 (6.45pm-9.15pm) at the Meeniyan Bowls Club (see advert this issue for details).
Mr Andrews gave details of a $1.5 million assistance package to deliver support for affected farmers and the broader community.
“We’re putting farmers and their families first by providing them with the support they need to look after themselves – and each other.”
The package includes:
• $940,000 for extra counselling services and additional funding to Lifeline so that farmers and their families can get the information, advice and support they need
• $345,000 for grants for affected communities so they are better supported to continue to look out for each other and come together to talk about the issues that matter to them
• $150,000 to give 750 people mental health first aid training, giving the community valuable information about mental health issues and where to get help for themselves, their friends or family
• $100,000 boost towards the Look Over the Farm Gate program led by the VFF and the National Centre for Farmer Health. This will include extra community wellbeing workshops and community events
Dairy farmers and their families seeking help, they can phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Or you might call the Rural Financial Counselling Service Victoria (Gippsland) office at Leongatha on 5662 2566. The service is very busy fielding calls from affected farmers but so far without additional help from the Federal Government.