Dairy co-operative Norco has introduced a dedicated telephone service for farmers struggling with their mental health.
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Norco introduces phone mental health support for dairy farmers

The new service is in response to a spike in mental health issues among farmers following devastating floods earlier this year.

Queensland dairy farmer and Norco supplier Ross Blanch leads the new program.

Mr Blanch has farmed at Lower Mount Walker, Qld, for 50 years.

For the past 23 years he has donated his spare time to counselling and helping farmers in his local community, particularly after natural disasters.

Mr Blanch said he had spoken to more than 40 farmers this year and their mental wellness had declined since this time last year.

Farmers were still suffering from shock following the severity of the floods, resulting in self-isolation and reclusion from social events.

“I have noticed that many farmers are socially distancing themselves from their communities,” he said.

“Where there was once over 100 farmers attending industry events, we’re now lucky if there are 15.

“The new program with Norco works brilliantly because we know farmers are open to talking about their mental health if it is with a fellow farmer who understands and knows the daily struggles they go through.

“I just drop in for a chat and because I’m a farmer also, they tend to open up at the end of the conversation and their whole tone of voice changes.”

Norco Milk supply manager Dr Mark Callow said the 2022 east coast floods were devastating for dairy farmers, as they threatened their lives, properties, livelihoods and cattle.

“One of the main messages we want to share with other farmers – and indeed the broader farming community – is the importance of mates talking to mates, and doing what we can to look out for each other,” Dr Callow said.

“We’re privileged to have Ross on board to lead this program, knowing that he can connect with farmers, by speaking openly and honestly about his own personal experiences, and how he maintains his own mental wellness.”

Dr Callow said the motivation to take positive action and establish this new program was amplified by learning how long farmers, and those living in rural and regional Australia, were waiting to speak to a mental health professional.

“Having to wait up to three weeks to speak to a professional is simply not good enough, let alone at such a critical time as when mental health support is needed,” he said.

Dr Callow said the floods tested the resilience of their farmer members and their ability to manage and cope.

“Providing mental health support to our farming community by giving them the opportunity to talk to a trained and likeminded farmer has certainly been well received,” he said.

“And at the end of the day, we simply want them to know that there’s somewhere to turn and someone they can relate to when in need of some extra support.”

The new program is part of Norco’s Employee Assistance Program.

It was implemented in response to a 40 per cent increase in community referrals compared with last year, with heightened pressure being felt by farming families after the devastating floods earlier this year.

The quality rating of domestic dairy products has remained above 99 percent for six consecutive years, experts said at a webinar.

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