Rural support

The Ministry for Primary Industries provides ongoing rural mental wellness support for primary producers.

Rural response: When the earthquakes hit

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was already part of the Hurunui Drought Recovery Committee and Eastern South Island Drought Committee and had strong stakeholder relations with the Rural Support Trust, Mayor and sector groups in the area (DairyNZ, Fonterra, Beef + Lamb NZ), Federated Farmers, vets, and key individuals.

The North Canterbury Rural Support Trust was very active, connected and known in the drought-affected area.

Following the quakes, the weekly Hurunui Drought Committee calls were repurposed and extended to include the Top of the South Rural Support Trust and councils and others in the area; as well as extended to immediately relevant agencies, such as the New Zealand Transport Agency. A rural earthquake update group had teleconferences, initially twice a week, to keep each other informed and coordinate primary sector support. seemed to be gaps in getting support to the rural community in the immediate aftermath. They worked with an informal collective of primary sector groups (TeamAg), using the resources and systems in place such as Federated Farmers’ 0800 number to gather requests for, and offers of, help.

MPI had a key role in coordinating the flow of information between stakeholders and ensuring farmers’ concerns and needs were heard; as well as getting information about help available to the more isolated farmers. It funded both of the Rural Support Trusts to provide targeted services following the earthquake, including farm visits, and appointed Rural Recovery Coordinators in Marlborough, Hurunui and Kaikōura to facilitate and support efforts on the ground.

MPI pushed out and received communications through networks, social media and media, as well as undertaking a mail drop to affected rural areas to ensure the messages were getting through about the assistance measures available.

Rural wellness and welfare

The ongoing rural mental wellness work of the Rural Support Trusts, funded by MPI, has helped ensure the right skillsets are in place to recognise, manage and refer people with signs of depression and ongoing stress in our rural farming communities. This meant there were pre-existing relationships between the Rural Support Trusts and rural mental health practitioners and referral pathways to expert support were in place ahead of the earthquakes. There are strong linkages between these social and health services to provide support and back up when needed. The Rural Support Trust’s facilitators also worked alongside the navigators to provide a coordinated approach to supporting wellbeing of farmers and their families, and referral to services.

Supported by funding from MPI, the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust, Top of South Rural Support Trust and TeamAg farm visits in December 2016 and January 2017 were repeated in April 2017 to the hardest hit areas to ensure farmers were aware of the assistance measures available. Follow up is ongoing and co-ordinated by Rural Support Trusts and the MPI Lead Rural Recovery Co-ordinator.

The ongoing rural mental wellness work of the Rural Support Trusts has helped ensure the right skillsets are in place to recognise, manage and refer depression and ongoing stress for farmers, their employees and their families. The people identified through this channel may not be picked up through other channels as requiring psychosocial support.

The Ministry for Primary Industries is part of the National Social Recovery Coordination Group, facilitated and led by the National Emergency Management Agency. MPI brought to the Group the perspective of primary producers (farming, forestry and fishing) and their needs and activities, as well as presenting animal welfare issues that could impact on farmers’ health and wellbeing.

Key ongoing issues

MPI continues to work with the Rural Support Trusts and agribusiness. The lead EQ Recovery Coordinator remains in place until 2018. Where specific challenges have been identified, farming families are assigned a case manager to be their single point of contact to help them through:

  • Repairs to homes of families living on farms, and other farm buildings.
  • Fencing.
  • Farm access is still difficult in many areas and there are major earthworks going on. Slips and crevasses complicate stock work. Unstable land is still moving, affecting some new fences.
  • Water – quite a bit left to do to return farm water supplies (stock and potable) to pre-quake state –in terms of reliability and quality (many cases of taint, eg iron, manganese).
  • Damaged land is either being left to nature (where steep and unstable) or remediated with machinery, cracks filled in, cultivated, revegetated with grass or crops, levelled for re-fencing.
  • Rivers have been damaged and damned by slips and are being monitored by regional councils.
  • Stress and anxiety continues for some rural residents in the earthquake-affected areas, with an important service provided by the Rural Support Trusts’ regular community events (refer to the online events calendar).