Already-stressed farmers will need to use all resources available to cope with the added impact of mycoplasma bovis. Their personal resilience faces a severe test

Already-stressed farmers will need to use all resources available to cope with the added impact of mycoplasma bovis. Their personal resilience faces a severe test

By Daniel Tisch*

The mycoplasma bovis eradication programme underway will challenge farmer resilience. Resilience addresses the return to normal after a shock.

The shock felt by farmers from culling their herds has been widely reported. From what we know about resilience, this initial impact will be followed by a recovery period, in which the mental and emotional state of farmers will be affected for years.

The incidence of depression, suicide and other mental health conditions will rise.

An average of one farmer every other week commits suicide in New Zealand and this rate increases during stressful times such as a drought. International studies of farmers highlight their vulnerability. Many countries have programmes to support farmer resilience.  For example, US-lawmakers are currently discussing The Stress Act for farmers. 

My research in New Zealand showed that those most vulnerable to shock are sharemilkers, farm labourers and dairy hands because they have daily contact with animals now suffering. 

The mycoplasma bovis eradication programme will expose farmers to the loss of their entire herd. Supporting farmer resilience is useful to view in two phases: reducing initial impact and increasing the rate of recovery. 

Financial support and crisis helplines serve to dampen the initial impact of a shock. But the insidious nature of stress during recovery is hard to address because it is invisible. Furthermore, decision-making is impaired by excessive stress and, over time, poor decisions can result in more stress. 

This is important because the recovery phase justifies unique resources to support farmers. Call centre helplines are useful but have limits. I found that the most vulnerable farmers tend to be early-career, male, and aren’t inclined towards having conversations about what is stressing them, let alone having a deep and meaningful therapeutic conversation about recovery from shock.

Instead, meeting on a farm or in some type of community centre such as a town hall or the local pub was a common way of coping with stress. I found farmers like hearing from other farmers in their communities, not only for practical advice but for a calming effect from being with others in the same predicament.  Providing opportunities for farmers to meet in places familiar to them is an important step for farmers to reach out for assistance. 

The take-away message is that resources to support farmer resilience can be tailored to those most vulnerable.

We must remember that the mycoplasma bovis eradication programme will have consequences for farmer well-being extending far beyond the culling schedule. Crown agencies, call centres and other organisations such as Federated Farmers and Rural Support Trust are best-placed to support farmer resilience from such shock events.

Dr Daniel Tisch, Department of Management and International Business, The University of Auckland.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

ANZ announces m bovis support package and donates $20,000 to Rural Support Trust.

I know the banks aren't a charity and I know they didn't have to but when you're NZ's largest rural lender, helping facilitate land price increase, harvesting those interest payments over the last decade then get headlines for donating 0.002% of your net profit from the last 6 months to help farmers, seems a bit short.

Good point Canon :-)

Is anybody in NZ really still naive enough to believe anyone but ordinary taxpayers will suffer for all this? Farmers wont. They never do. Any airy-fairy talk by the agricultural sector about it paying a share of the costs is just code for "Of course we will pass it all on to everyone other than ourselves and then pocket some whopping great compensation" and we all know it. You can't live in NZ for more than a few short years and not learn how Kiwi farming is the origin of the meme, "Privatize the profits, socialize the losses."

Biosecurity Act allows for compensation:
The Act (section 162A) provides that in certain circumstances a person or business is entitled to compensation where MPI has exercised powers, and a verifiable loss has resulted. For example:
You have had property damaged or destroyed.
Restrictions have been imposed on the movement or disposal of your goods, which have caused you loss. The restrictions might be through a Restricted Place Notice, a Notice of Direction, or a Controlled Area Notice.

Malarkey, you don't appear to understand how ag is already spending money and 'paying a share', DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb are funded via levies paid for by farmers. They are the ones who have taken staff from their usual roles (in the case of DairyNZ in Southland they have reduced the number of farm discussion groups being run by their Consulting Officers) and redirected them to m bovis work. Neither DairyNZ nor Beef and Lamb sell anything to consumers so your comments that 'we will pass it all on to everyone...' shows a lack of understanding. Fonterra and supermarkets set the price consumers pay and in neither case will any of them receive m bovis compensation.

I am interested on your views of the kiwifruit psa compensation - do you also believe that is was a case of Of course we will pass it all on to everyone other than ourselves and then pocket some whopping great compensation ? If not why not, afterall the compensation in both cases comes via the Biosecurity Act.

"Blah blah blah, townies townies townies, bludgers bludgers bludgers, backbone of the country, everyone owes me everything, I deserve it all, it's my right, gimme gimme gimme, blah blah blah..."

Nothing but the usual from farmers, as always.

You don't let the facts get in the way of a rant do you malarkey. Nothing but the usual from you.

I think you better check how much socialism is going to the real losers who never work or pay tax. Farmers are paying far more in tax than they ever claim back, end of story. Farmers are they taxpayers in this country.

Cough cough. My experience is that tax minimisation is a common farming strategy and the profit is collected tax free with capital gains on sale. Do you have any facts to back your assertion?

Tax minimisation is a business strategy, not exclusive to farming and is legal and doesn't mean no tax is paid. Where farming is different, is that the IRD sets livestock values every year and for farmers who own stock that can create either a profit or a loss. I am not aware of IRD setting stock values (whether livestock or retail etc stock) in any other business, but am happy to be corrected.

Is there any evidence for this skudiv? I know there were some reports that showed farms generate little positive return except for the long term capital gain generated by growing farm sizes complimentary of interest tax deductions. These reports were ridiculed at the time but I haven't seen anything to the contrary. If farmers are minimal tax payers why are they a protected species?

A Land Tax needs to be looked at.

Smalltown the 2011 report you are quoting refers to the 2009 income year. That year saw a reduction in milkprice paid. Previous year milk price was $7.59, 2009 dropped to $4.75 so with a 62.58% drop in income it would not be unexpected for some to make a loss and or pay less tax. When payout drops it is not unusual for livestock prices to drop. IRD sets these rates every year. The difference this can make to bottom line can be substantial e.g. 500cows plus 20% replacement =600 animals. A drop of $200/head = $120,000 to be written off against profit. Conversely livestock prices also do rise, so if IRD raises the value $200/head it will create a profit of $120,000 to be added to any profit the farm has made.

Your 2nd link doesn't work. Below is a link to real budgets of a range of dairy farms that are willing to share their financial data. With a current $6.50+ payout the vast majority of farmers should be in profit, however those who own livestock may, or may not, have a stock writedown as m bovis is having a significant effect on stock sales in some parts of the country. m bovis compensation will be part of farmers taxable income. The reality is that banks won't continue support to businesses that aren't profitable.

If your farm gets MPB your herd can either suffer all the symptoms which are horrible and expensive to treat. Far better then, to get on with the eradication of the disease to minimise the suffering.

Your access to our unique content is free - always has been. But ad revenues are diving so we need your direct support.

Become a supporter

Thanks, I'm already a supporter.