Mental Health & Well Being
Farm Recovery Reboot
Mental Health & Well Being
Farm Recovery Events
Varroa mite Assistance
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- Response and Recovery
Mental Health & Well Being
The latter half of 2022 was an especially busy time for Rural Aid’s team of 15 nation-wide counsellors.
Calls to the dedicated Rural Aid counselling phoneline went up three-fold as the sheer devastation and scale of the floods sunk in for farmers.
In the 22/23 Financial Year, Rural Aid spent more than $1.25 million to provide counselling support for the nation's farmers.Rural Aid counsellors conducted more than 1800 counselling sessions in the past year.
The trained mental health professionals checked in with our farmers wherever they were most comfortable; whether it was on property visits, in town, or over the phone.
Rural Aid’s counsellors also attended more than 50 community events including field days, recovery centres and school events.
These events were vital for encouraging new farmer registrations and reminding farmers of Rural Aid’s local presence.
The Mustering Growth program entered its second phase of development in the past year.
The program was created with Monash University to help schoolchildren recover from natural disasters and build resilience for the future.
Rural Aid’s counsellors guided school children through a tailored wellbeing workbook of interactive activities, designed to promote rural children’s mental health literacy, resilience, and adaptive coping strategies.
Dozens of schools and hundreds of students have benefitted from the program.
One facilitator reported at the program’s end: ‘Children discussed how it helped calm them down when they were feeling anxious’.
Rural Aid is now taking Mustering Growth to schools all over across Australia.
Brad Hogg events
Rural Aid worked with Grain Producers Australia to take cricketing legend Brad Hogg to farming field days across the country.
Brad openly shared his mental health struggles with farmers across Australia in an effort to normalise seeking help.
His heartfelt stories and anecdotes were appreciated by the cricket-loving crowds, and sparked many discussions with our counselling team, following the presentation.
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Rural Aid’s Our Towns program created long-term positive change, improved economic growth and fostered prosperity in small rural towns.
Gayndah in Queensland and Coolah in New South Wales both welcomed a team of volunteers to their towns in the past year for a week of town-makeover works.
More than 75 volunteers dedicated their time to the drought-recovery, town-makeover program.
With the help of the Rural Aid’s volunteers, donors and staff, Gayndah and Coolah were able to build a more resilient and sustainable future.
Gayndah and Coolah were two of ten towns that have benefited from the Our Towns program, and each received $100,000 to bring their projects to life.
The ten Our Towns communities continue to use their funding to improve their regions, including in Orroroo, South Australia, where the community champions are renewing their entire main street.
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Community Builders was undertaken in the North Midlands and Southern Central Wheatbelt regions of West Australia in the 22/23 financial year.
Representatives from the regions’ towns learned how to improve their district’s allure, foster volunteerism and boost their population. The program supported community champions to identify their town’s economic and social needs.
Community Builders was delivered by Rural Aid and small-town expert Peter Kenyon from the Bank of I.D.E.A.S. Community Builders not only shaped individual leaders, but also strengthened social connections and bonds within the community.
More than $400,000 was delivered to community development programs, which spanned across 60 small rural towns across Australia.
The participants all returned high praise for the innovative program. 96 per cent of locals enjoyed participating and liked the way the program was run. The same percentage also agreed they were confident they could implement the lessons learnt.
- “Hearing about all the amazing initiatives in other communities and realising that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, as there are so many people happy to help and share their work.”
- “Being able to showcase my hometown. It got us to look critically at what we have, what we need and how we go about it. Some of the guest speakers were amazing too.”
Rural Aid’s Community Development and capacity building programs used an Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach, which empowered communities to be active partners in building resilience and adaptability to natural disasters.
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Farming Family Reboot
Rural Aid supported two rounds of the Farming Family Reboot program in the past year.
The Reboot is a powerful initiative that supported a dozen families to step away from their farm to learn new skills, knowledge and tools.
The program was held at the University of New England, Armidale. The first round was held in September 2022, and the second round in April, 2023.
“It was a great opportunity to just refocus,” Dalveen farmer Fran Thompson said.
“I’m not into going away to courses,” farmer Steve Thompson admitted, but said of the Reboot, “I thought the program was fantastic. It’s not just about farming, it’s about the whole lifestyle.”
Rural Aid CEO John Warlters said in drought, the focus was on the livestock, the property and immediate concerns, leaving the people themselves “pushed to the side”.
“The Farming Family Reboot was an initiative that we’re really proud of at Rural Aid,” Mr Warlters said.
The participant’s accommodation and meals were provided free of charge thanks to the support of Rural Aid, the University of New England, and the SQNNSW Innovation Hub through funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.
The Farming Family Reboot program covered topics such as: the way decisions were made on the farm; understanding weather forecasts; matching stocking rate to feed supply; relationships within the family, and the latest UNE SMART Farms research.
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Rural Aid’s water tank and drinking water program supported hundreds of farmers in the 22/23 financial year.
Rural Aid made more than 165 water deliveries, totalling 3.4 million litres, to farming households in the past financial year.
More than 105 water tanks were delivered to farmers in low rainfall or disaster affected regions in the past year. The poly water tanks were an invaluable resource for drought preparation, representing 22,500L of security.
100 per cent of surveyed recipients agreed that receiving a water delivery had a positive impact on their mental wellbeing. 90 per cent said they felt more prepared for natural disasters.
A farmer who received a water tank wrote, “We now drink RAINWATER!!! How good is that?”
“We were at a very low point emotionally when we were offered this wonderful rain tank and it lifted our spirits just knowing we weren’t alone.
“The whole job was done promptly and smoothly by friendly understanding people. This encouraged us to rethink our whole water layout and we are in the process of drought proving (sic) our farm!
“So thank you, this was more than a tank, this was encouragement not to give up.”
Rural Aid now has plans to deliver 500 water tanks to farmers across the country before 2025.
The tank and water deliveries were supported by Rural Aid’s official water partner, Finish.
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Twelve New South Wales farmers trialled a Multikraft Probiotic Solutions product following a Rural Aid workshop in Gunnedah this year.
Multikraft Probiotic Solutions have developed a range of sustainable microbial products which help to increase a farmer’s overall resilience and productivity, whilst also reducing reliance on harmful chemicals.
Multikraft has decades of experience across the globe and has been actively helping Australian farmers since 2014. Their tailored solutions cover plant, cropping, animal and environmental sectors.
Rural Aid is working with Multikraft to collect data on the products’ performance to guide future trials.
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Farm Recovery Events
Rural Aid’s Farm Recovery Events were a silver lining to many farmers’ disaster experiences in 2022 and 2023.
Dozens of Rural Aid volunteers donated their time and labour to disaster-affected farmers during the Farm Recovery Events.
Volunteers spent more than 4850 hours completing vital farm recovery works in the past year.
The incredible Rural Aid volunteers completed dozens of jobs as part of Farm Recovery Events in the past year, including repairing fences, building ramps, cleaning bee hives, constructing sheds and clearing flood debris.
Much of Eugowra farmer Ray Townsend's property was destroyed in the 2022 flood crisis.
“[These floods were] bigger than anything I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Ray said.
With the help of a team of Rural Aid volunteers, Ray was able to rebuild hundreds of metres of damaged fencing.
The new fences meant Ray could bring his livestock back on property once again; a huge relief for the dedicated farmer.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic, the support we’ve been shown,” an emotional Ray said.
More than $20,000 was spent on disaster recovery events by Rural Aid in the 22/23 financial year.
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Surviving and recovering from floods was the focus of the 22/23 financial year for many farmers.
Rural Aid helped primary producers get back on their feet after widespread, destructive flooding that was deemed Australia’s most costly natural disaster on record.
At the height of the flood crisis, 130 local government areas were declared a disaster zone.
Rural Aid spent $3.5 million helping farmers, their families, and their communities, in the past financial year.
Farmers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and some regions of South Australia were assisted by Rural Aid’s flood recovery support.
More than $375,000 was given to farmers in financial assistance, via a pre-paid Visa card.
Some farmers are still living in sheds, some haven’t had income for months and exhaustion is rife.
Lismore Pecan grower Scott Clark said recovering from the flood has been all-consuming.
“Most of the time, it’s been quite a struggle to get out of bed,” Scott said.
He said he “couldn’t thank Rural Aid enough” for the volunteers’ efforts.
“They’re not real big jobs but to have them out of the way is very helpful. It’s a load off our minds,” Scott said.
Cattle farmer Alyson Bruggy also thanked the volunteers for their hard work.
“It’s amazing that people are happy to put their hand up to come along and do just about anything to help out,” she said.
“It means a lot to us. They’re getting the extra jobs done that we just can’t get to; it’s definitely speeding up progress.”
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Varroa Mite Assistance
Varroa mite was first detected in European Honeybees in June 2022, when the alarm was raised at the Port of Newcastle.
Rural Aid immediately supported beekeepers with an offer of $1500 of financial assistance and free counselling sessions.
Beekeeper Rob Porteous said his reaction to the varroa mite was ‘devastation’.
“It just brought the industry to a halt. Everyone was confused and didn’t know what to do,” Rob said.
His bees were caught in the purple zone, plunging them into indefinite quarantine, which cost him tens of thousands of dollars.
“Because I can’t move them, I can’t make an income out of them.”
He appreciated Rural Aid’s financial support during the difficult time.
“It feels like someone’s got your back and people do care.”
At the news of the incursion, Rural Aid CEO John Warlters said, “Our thoughts are with beekeepers and their families at this time. It must be soul destroying to see precious hives euthanised on top of the significant financial impact.”
Rural Aid experienced an increase in calls from distressed beekeepers who were understandably upset that their livelihoods and livestock were in jeopardy.
“Our counselling team is specially trained to help primary producers navigate crisis. We thank the New South Wales DPI for their trust in encouraging apiarists to reach out to Rural Aid,” Mr Warlters said.
Rural Aid has provided more than $500,000 to beekeepers since 2015.
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Rural Aid reinstated its flagship Buy a Bale program in late 2022, in response to the devastating flooding that gripped Australia.
Rural Aid CEO John Warlters remarked at the time that, “These floods have had unprecedented impact on rural Australians – families are losing their homes and livelihoods and entire towns are being wiped out,”
“Hay supplies are running out and stranded animals are drowning and starving. Crops are rotting in the ground.
“It’s time to bring Buy a Bale back, not only to provide much-needed fodder deliveries, but also to offer financial assistance, clean drinking water, volunteer and counselling support to Aussie farming families facing this crisis.”
Rural Aid delivered more than 4000 bales of hay to Australian farmers in the past year.
“In the space of 12 months, farmers have needed hay for both flood recovery and drought preparation,” Mr Warlters said.
“Supplying hay to livestock producers is Rural Aid’s bread and butter. More than 86 per cent of surveyed farmers said that receiving Rural Aid hay reduced their financial stress.”
Condobolin farmer Allyn Watt received hay from Rural Aid just before Christmas in 2022.
“There’s no feed at all on the property, it’s all totally bare because of the floods,” Allyn said.
Bedgerabong farmer Scott Darcy also received hay bales in the same drop.
“The sheep behind us, we just fed them with donated hay from Rural Aid, which has been fantastic.”
“The generosity of the Australian public has been fantastic.”
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Rural Aid has a very clear purpose, vision and mission and the assistance it provides farming families and rural communities before, during and after disaster, can and has, made a significant difference to those in desperate need of support.
Farming families and communities have been hit hard by disasters which have become more frequent and severe in the eight years since Rural Aid was established in 2015.
For example, between 2017-19 experienced its driest three years on record only to be followed by its wettest three years in history from 2020 to 2022.
Beyond the climatic challenges experienced through Rural Aid’s short history, bushfires, mice plagues and even Varroa mites affecting the bee industry have inflicted damages that even the best prepared can have difficulty getting through unassisted.
Whatever and wherever the challenge, Rural Aid utilities its resources to provide rural families and communities with a much needed hand up.
Through this year Rural Aid has very deliberately sought to share its experiences and insights on providing support through these disaster events through submissions to multiple Federal Government inquiries and at roundtable engagements it has hosted with the charities and not for profit sector.
Our consistent message is that Rural Aid can and should be a partner of government through all the phases of the disaster lifecycle from “respond and recovery” through to “preparation and prevention”.
We look forward to ongoing engagement and consultation with the Federal Government, and the States, and acknowledge those ministers and elected representatives who have made themselves available to meet with Rural Aid’s senior management.
Our management team continues to pursue Rural Aid’s agenda – that is, to ensure farming families are supported through disasters and importantly through the long recovery.
Rural Aid is well-known for the financial assistance, delivery of fodder and provision of emergency drinking water, along with its counsellors and community building initiatives - these have again been delivered efficiently to all corners of the country.
Recognising the importance of forward planning and ensuring that farming enterprises are fit for purpose, Rural Aid is also providing family succession planning support through its wholly owned subsidiary Rural Transition Services.
The transition of rural enterprises from one generation to the next is without doubt one of the biggest issues confronting agribusiness families and Rural Transition Services has an important and valuable role in this process.
The National Farmers Federation has an aspiration that 90pc of families have a succession plan in place by 2030. It recognises that if agriculture is to be a $100 billion industry in this time, families must tackle the transition challenge now.
A Rural Aid survey of its registered farmers revealed that 62pc do not have a transition plan in place, further highlighting the scale of the challenge. It is a risk to agribusiness families that is often overlooked or deferred. Rural Aid, has identified this risk and has established a dedicated team to provide a service that is of critical importance. Rural Transition Services has been established to be an important participant in providing a solution for farming families.
This service goes beyond the “traditional” support Rural Aid has previously provided. Agribusiness families need to have a clear plan on how to manage the intergenerational transfer of wealth, family legacies and their long term futures.
The income derived from the professional support that Rural Transition Services provides is returned to Rural Aid to help sustain its ongoing programs and activities.
Rural Aid directors and management team are committed to high standards of governance and financial sustainability in order to meet our commitment to providing the best possible support to farming families and communities when they encounter disasters and the challenge of recovery.
Our focus on building resilience in the rural communities of Australia is reflected in our commitment to being a strong and long term partner in times of need.
Alex Hutton, Rural Aid Chairman
Unforgettable and unprecedented were words used repeatedly to describe 2022-23, and not surprisingly, given the challenges farming families and rural communities experienced during the multiple catastrophic flood events that characterised the year.
To put these collective flood disasters across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia into context, the Insurance Council of Australia says the Queensland/Northern NSW flood alone was the nation’s most “costliest insured event” at an estimated $6 billion. This figure blows out well beyond $8 billion when damage resulting from floods in the other states, including West Australia and the Kimberley is included.
Farmers and their families were amongst the hardest hit – both financially and in terms of their mental health and emotional wellbeing. This latter “cost” cannot be overstated – talk to any producer impacted by these events and emotions are still raw, and understandably so.
We continue to witness this today, more than 12 months after the event for some families, through Rural Aid’s day-to-day interactions with producers across the country. It reinforces again that recovery is never one paced, and repairing the “mental fences” is infinitely more complex than re-standing one flattened by floodwater.
Such was the toll of the floods - and accumulated recent disasters, research commissioned by Norco in partnership with the National Farmers Federation found that 45 per cent of farmers “had thoughts of self-harm” and close to a third had “actually attempted to harm themselves or taken their own lives”.
The 2023 National Farmer Wellbeing report found that weather, incorporating natural disasters, was the top answer farmers gave when asked what triggered their mental health issues and 88 per cent of farmers surveyed said their farming operations “had been adversely affected by weather events” over the past five years, at an average cost of $1.4 million per farm.
Anecdotally, this sentiment is mirrored through Rural Aid’s experience of supporting producers through the multitude of challenges that farming families have weathered in recent years. In the financial year, Rural Aid’s mental health and wellbeing team delivered 1800 sessions, in addition to the thousands of informal chats had at saleyards, field days, industry forums and community events in and around the regions they live and work.
Rural Aid counsellors have travelled far and wide, in and out of disaster areas, to provide support to families – often seeing them on their properties. This has taken the team from Victoria’s Gippsland region to the Kimberley in West Australia and many points in between.
Through these tens of thousands of kilometres travelled and the hundreds of resulting conversations, relationships have been forged and lives positively impacted during times of incredible stress and emotional turmoil.
Rural Aid has and will continue to advocate that emotional and wellbeing support delivered in person by professional counsellors who live and work in rural and regional communities must be part of the solution to changing mental health outcomes in the bush.
The need is undeniable and Rural Aid must be part of the solution. Our goal remains to place more counsellors into more communities to support more farmers. Achieving this goal will require government support and Rural Aid will continue to knock on the doors of ministers and political decision-makers for as long as it takes.
In reflecting on the past year, it is impossible not to acknowledge the enormous contribution of the entire Rural Aid team, the wonderful volunteers who work tirelessly to make our farm recovery weeks the success that they are, and the countless individuals and businesses who donated to our cause during such a tumultuous year of disasters.
Rural Aid has many wonderful supporters from across the business and corporate sector and we thank them also for their ongoing commitment and generosity.
John Warlters, Rural Aid CEO
When agriculture is strong and thriving, so too, are towns in the bush, and the many businesses and families who rely on the sector. Every Australian benefits from the agricultural products that come from our rural heartland.
This is why it is so important for all Australians that the financial burden of government tape is drastically and urgently reduced – so too compliance costs. I know there are many farmers struggling with huge solar panel expenses and wind generators going across their paddocks.
I am also very concerned about the cost of net zero policies and how this will impact every farm, station and other agricultural business. To purchase electric vehicles from lawn mowers and motor bikes to utes, trucks, tractors and harvester alone will cost millions. Converting a bore to solar costs approx. $70,000, multiplied by the many watering points stations need to sustain their stock and staff. If not on a mains, as many are not, a solar generator with accompanying large batteries requires another $600,000.
I have suggested publicly, that such costs be restricted, maybe to say $200,000 per farmer, which of course will do little towards the many millions per farmer these government net zero policies demand.
Of course, those on the land as we all know, not only face these man-made challenges, but natural ones too.
Rural Aid plays a vital role in helping our rural Australia. Without its efforts, our food producers - our farmers and their families, would be even more exposed to the hardships that come with droughts, flood, bushfire and other challenges.
It is an honour to be the patron of this organisation helping those in our fantastic agriculture industry. Regardless of what nature throws at them, Australia’s primary producers feed and clothe us. We should all honour them, especially on their national day, November 21. Agriculture and the resources industries are not only my family’s past but also our future. I am always thankful for having grown up on our then two stations.
The resilience of our food and clothing producers and their families and the many businesses they support was tested again during the year. Let’s do what we can to help them help others.
Thank you Rural Aid and all of its supporters big and small, for the work that you do to help those who provide so much for our country and our future.
Gina Rinehart, Rural Aid Patron