‘Temper the truth about drought with sensitivity’

MEDIA reporting of drought was leading to more mental health problems and causing untold grief for rural communities where some farmers were depressed to the point of danger, a northern industry figure said yesterday.

He’s a commercial agronomist with a rural company now but Stuart Squires reckons in today’s climate he feels more like a grief counsellor.

The Tamworth resident but Manilla and Barraba businessman said insensitive reporting of weather forecasts or sensational headlines were the last thing farmers needed in this drought.

“People are that close to the edge that they don’t need any help to go over it,” Mr Squires said.

“Anyone associated with farming is hurting, that’s indisputable.

“You name a business in any rural community, including the big ones like Tamworth, and they will tell you the same thing: people are hurting.”

The outlook was even grimmer, particularly with winter approaching and no growth from any rain if it fell.

Farmers were sliding down a slippery slope.

“I can notice a decline in outlook and an increase in pessimism in some people on a weekly basis,” he said.

“‘Each day that passes is a day closer to rain’, they used to say. Now the more common version is ‘each day that passes is a day closer to goin’ broke’.” 

But while he deplored some media reporting, the Landmark agronomist agreed the message and the impact of the drought had to be circulated.

“There is a misconception that all farmers are wealthy,” he said.

“Yes, and even in Tamworth you will find that. But most farmers operate with overdrafts and mortgages many times greater than any suburban mortgage.

“You see or hear reports of anyone in the suburbs doing it tough, like the battlers in western Sydney, but even if they’re on a minimum wage that’s not perfect, but they still get their minimum wage.”

Farmers had no such security net, but some cash flow relief via Centrelink-type payments was one solution.

Farmers had told him governments were also too slow to react.

“You know, one described it this way – ‘they wait until the crows have pecked your eyes and your arsehole out before they do anything’,” he said. 

Mr Squires joined the throng of industry identities calling for immediate action for drought-stricken regional farmers. 

Like Nationals MP Adam Marshall, Mr Squires nominated his number one need for farmers right now was transport subsidies.

And not next week, not the week after, but right now.

“Absolutely, it has to be done quickly, start (today),” he said.

“We’re getting hay from South Australia and Victoria and it’s costing more for transport than what’s on the truck.

“It’s not the truckie’s fault, that’s just the way things are.

“You have to spend more on transport than on the product.”

Mr Squires said media reports needed to temper the bald facts with sensitivity.

“You have to be careful to have that optimistic outlook, you have to have that balance, of optimism and truth,” he said.

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