When Melanie Rogers first started dating her future husband, Graham, she’d sit on the steps of the milking shed and chat to him about her day.
“Eventually he said ‘well, you might as well put the cups on while you’re talking’,” she said.
We work because we talk
More than 20 years and two teenagers later, the Waihi couple still chats in the milking shed of the 220-hectare family farm Graham left school to work on.
“We work because we talk,” says Melanie, who admits farming is not her preferred career choice.
“I’m happy to help out on the farm and I love living in the country but I’ve always needed another outlet,” she said.
Farming comes first, but not without a bit of glamour
Working at Farmers and the local supermarket before securing a role at BNZ where she stayed until the couple’s two children came along, she then worked full time on the farm and ran a nail salon from home in between milkings.
“There were times I had to run home from the cowshed as clients were coming up the driveway. I was blessed to have understanding clients who knew farming came first,” she laughs.
Modern farming demands mean more business pressure, less lifestyle
For Graham, fishing provides a bit of time out from the demands of the farm, which he says have increased significantly over the past ten years.
“When I first started with the old man, if we had heavy rain we’d just close the curtains, he said.
“Now the farm’s more heavily stocked and I can’t afford to have a paddock damaged by pugging and not performing. It’s become more business orientated rather than a lifestyle, the social aspect has become a bit lost.”
Bigger farms, higher debt levels, more focus on farm efficiency, as well as extra compliance and audit paperwork have added extra stress to a job that’s already round-the-clock with no check out time from the office.
Public perception can take it's toll
There’s also been a shift in the public perception of farming over the past few years.
“You’re busy fencing waterways, upgrading effluent systems, and doing riparian planting at huge cost and you still get slammed on social media for damaging the environment – it’s gut wrenching,” Graham said.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but as an industry we’re making some really positive changes.”
Talking with trusted nucleus of people invaluable
Again, for the Rogers, talking is the best medicine. Fostering relationships with a close circle of rural professionals, including his bank manager who he talks to at least every 10 days, Graham attends most Fonterra meetings and Dairy NZ farm discussion groups. He also has a nucleus of people he can chat to if things aren’t going well.
“When you’re tired, wet and cold, something small like a water pump breaking down can be the last straw. Then you get on the phone to someone you know in the same boat and you realise it’s not just you having a bad day,” he said.
Finding other stress relievers the key to wellness
Other stress relievers include making a point of doing maintenance in the dry time to free things up for calving. A fan of making his own silage, putting on his own fertiliser and grazing young stock on his own land, Graham says keeping the farm self-contained gives him more control.
“It means I can put fertiliser on when the rain is coming rather than relying on someone else and going into the queue,” he said.
Small things can make a big difference
In the wake of this year’s drought and Covid 19, when farmers are even more prone to the effects of loneliness and isolation, Melanie encourages all rural folk to check-in regularly with their neighbours.
“I’ve made meals for people I know are struggling. It’s just something little I could do to help, but small things can make a huge difference,” she said.
“Most importantly, remember to talk. Go to farm discussion groups, get out-and-about and catch up with like-minded people. Even chatting with the tanker driver for five minutes can help.”
Are you worried about someone?
If you're worried about someone in our rural community who may be experiencing the effects of unhealthy stress or depression and don't know what to do, check out our Elephant in the Paddock campaign for advice and where to get help.