National Foods will sell its cheese processing plants in South Australia and close its two Victorian plants within three years. The moves were announced as part of a $132 million investment in Tasmania, aimed at rationalising the company’s cheese making business.
Rick Hinge has been re-appointed as wellbeing coordinator with DairySA after a 12-month pilot that he says made a positive impact on farmers.
The role to support wellbeing in the South Australia dairy community is funded by DairySA and the SA Dairy Industry Fund.
A fifth generation farmer, Mr Hinge has worked in rural health and drought assistance for the past decade.
He says the wellbeing role has given farming families a way to communicate their needs.
“My first priority is to listen,” he said. “I don’t come with any pre-conceived ideas; just come acceptance of the situation. Most times that creates a situation where people are happy to talk.
“Men prefer to talk one-on-one with someone they trust. Some of the best engagement I’ve had is looking at the ryegrass and the cows, and some of the better outcomes are when husbands and wives or partners sit across the table and I listen to what’s going on.”
Mr Hinge said communication was the biggest issue facing farmers in tough times.
“When things become difficult and we get under pressure, we generally forget to talk or we don’t do it very well. The outcome of that is a lot of extra pressure.”
He says the role is a new way to engage with people if they’re in stressful situations.
Mr Hinge covers the state and drives about 1000km a week. He sees people on referral and “where I see a cow, I call in”.
“My agricultural background has given me the heads-up on what it takes to be a farmer and I understand how traumatising it is when the numbers don’t add up.”
Farmers have a variety of concerns. “One of the most difficult things for any farming family is to not have enough money in the bank to pay bills, though that’s not necessarily the first thing people want to talk about. When you go to listen you hear what’s on the agenda today and my priority is to deal with that.”
“Everyone is different and every situation different. I still come across different responses but overall the little up in price is better than going down and there’s generally a good positive experience when I visit.”
The job has cemented Mr Hinge’s “deep respect” for farmers and their families. “I’m amazed at the resilience of farmers. They have an amazing capacity to keep going when things aren’t great.”
The model used for the welfare connect program has a good success rate, he says.
“When you connect with people, it’s all about trust and rapport and that takes time. I respect DairySA for having the courage to create a new position and keep it going.”
Mr Hinge’s links across the dairy industry create referrals to farmers needing help, and he in turn can refer them to financial counsellors, mental health services and other supports as needed.
“Once you open the communication it often takes the cork out and relieves the pressure,” he added.