with Don Fraser
Fraser Farm Finance
I’m appalled at the continued spate of suicides in the farming community. The statistics are basically one a week. It is not only the loss of a farmer, but the family trying to come to terms with the sudden exit of dad, husband, brother, son, farm-owner, sportsman, advocate and so on.
Unfortunately, there always seems to be a thread or common denominator and that is a rural banker. Yes, I was a rural banker in the 1960s and a rural financier in the 1990s and 2000s – and man was I aware of the suicide issues, let alone depression and anxiety that normally go before it.
I wrote about suicide and farming last year and suggested “somebody” should be paid to go and talk to the bereft family and try to find out what really happened. It wouldn’t be about finger-pointing or trying to find who is liable, but looking for the commonality and then trying to mitigate it for the farmers and the community at large.
I could write all day about cases I’ve heard about and the people I’ve met associated with suicide. So, as rural bankers, do we get training in this area to understand overload, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, anxiety, depression and suicide? In my time we did not. I understand the banks today are trying.
Do bankers become insensitive and does dealing with stressed farmers becomes normal? Do they normalise it? Do they really understand what is really going on in the farmer’s head? Do the young bankers, fresh from university, get training this area?
Should they have a ‘stress test’ and ask the farmers a few pertinent questions to gauge if there are problems? Should they call a psychologist in if they perceive the farmer is in trouble? I know I had my own ‘stress test’ and I did get a psychologist involved a few times and I really did listen and support the client.
Remember their budget is the bank’s budget, not yours. If you’re taking on a lot of debt get independent advice to ensure you’re not over-committed. A fatal flaw is to overestimate and overstate the estimated production. Given bank ratios are largely calculated on a production basis, overstated production can make the ratios look good. But if you need to spend more, or get a couple of bad seasons, the numbers look perilous.
When we hear of depression and talk of suicide, our immediate reaction is to stand back and keep out of the way. Bankers might not know what to do and avoid the situation. This is not the answer. We need to step up and go and help, listen, encourage, stress test, look around for help and support for the client.
Ask for help
Farmers have this dream of owning their own farm, but it is all about using debt to get there. There is basically no other way. But is the farmer able to handle the debt, stress and the issues that come with it?
If you are a farmer and feel like crap, ask for help. Do not give up! And please realise help is out there, particularly through the team at the Rural Support Trust. Phone: 0800 RURAL HELP.
Disclaimer – These are the opinions of Don Fraser of Fraser Farm Finance. Any decisions made should not be based on this article alone and appropriate professional assistance should be sought. Don Fraser is the principal of Fraser Farm Finance and a consultant to the farming industry. Contact him on 021 777 675