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Dairy Co-op takes stock of farmer mental health with grassroots support

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Northern Rivers ‘Farmer Army’ expands with new mental health recruit

Norco Co-Operative, Media Release, March 2024

Norco, Australia’s largest and oldest dairy co-operative has announced the expansion of its ‘Farmer Army’ with new mental health recruit and dairy farmer veteran, Craig Waddell.

Norco recognised the crucial need for the newly created role of Mental Health Support Officer, following its own research about farmer mental health, which found close to half (45%) of Australian farmers had thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Coined the National Farmer Wellbeing Report and in partnership with the National Farmers Federation, close to half of Australian farmers (45%) have felt depressed and nearly two thirds (64%) have experienced anxiety in the past few years.

Additional findings from the report found two of the top three factors impacting Australian farmer mental health were financial stress (36%), and inflation and cost pressures (35%). Adding to this, more than half (51%) of Australian farmers who struggle, do not want to burden their family or friends.

Michael Hampson, Norco Chief Executive Officer said the newly created position of Mental Health Support Officer will provide support exclusively to their farmer members who may need to talk to someone during challenging times or simply want to have a chat with another farmer.

“Craig has extensive farming experience and brings a deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by farmers and will be available to all our farmer members to lend a supportive and empathetic ear.

“The commitment Craig brings to the role of helping others and fostering a support network aligns with our mission of making a positive impact on the lives of those we serve,” Mr Hampson concludes.

Craig Waddell, Mental Health Support Officer for Norco who was a dairy farmer for 45 years, was announced to Norco members this month and is excited to commence his role supporting farmers who are struggling with their mental health.

“I bring a deep understanding of the unique challenges farmers face, and some farmers get tested every day, with some days better than others.

“If there are farmers out there that need someone to talk to, I am just a phone call or farm visit away to have a yarn and help make sense of their feelings and thoughts.

“Helping our farmers is not only a great thing to do for our industry, but I feel like I am giving back to an industry I have worked in for so long,” Craig adds.

Whilst Craig’s services, are exclusive to Norco members, his role will support the incredible work already being done by Norco member Ross Blanch and the Queensland Lifeline Farmer to Farmer program.

Ross Blanch who saw a 30 per cent increase in Norco farmer referrals after the National Farmer Wellbeing launch in 2023, welcomes the additional support from Craig Waddell.

“I have been helping farmers for the last five years by empowering them to express their feelings and show them that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and challenged.

“Farmers aren’t built to talk and so it’s really important that they have someone they can connect with who speaks their language and understands the unique struggles they face. 

“I welcome Craig in his new role; the more farmers we have in the army the better. Giving farmers greater access to mental health support is vital for our industry and sometimes all it takes is for them to be heard and understood,” Ross adds.

Norco, Australia’s oldest and largest 100% farmer owned cooperative, firmly believes that mental health is an integral part of overall well-being and is dedicated to creating a supportive environment for its farmer members, ensuring it is improving the lives of their farmers, people and the community.

Norco Chief Executive Officer, Michael Hampson will be attending the National Farmers Federation National Forum on Mental Health and Wellbeing in Agriculture on 13 March, a forum where leaders across the agricultural sector can further discuss what can be meaningfully implemented to improve mental health and wellbeing across the agricultural industry.

For more information about Norco’s commitment to farmer mental health please read the commissioned Report here: National Farmer Wellbeing Report 2023

About Craig Waddell, Mental Health Support Officer for Norco

Craig Waddell is a third generation dairy farmer who grew up in Bex Hill, New South Wales, just 10 kilometres out of Lismore. His grandfather first started the farm where Craig grew up. When Craig was in his 20’s he joined his mum and dad in a partnership and then took over the helm when they retired.

However, after 45 years of dairy farming and the devastating floods he decided to hang up his hat and embark on a new calling, completing Lifeline’s Mental Health First Aid training to give back to an industry he had worked in for so many years.

Craig recognises the importance of Norco extending support to farmers in need and his training has equipped him with the necessary skills to embark on his new role as Mental Health Support Officer for Norco, where he will provide exclusive and essential support to farming members.

Craig says farmers are faced with different challenges and tested every day with some days better than others.

“The support I will be able to offer, can and will make a positive impact on the Norco farmer community.

“I have never had training in the mental health space before, but I feel empowered by this new role of supporting fellow farmers for Norco.

“I feel confident because of my training and look forward to the new experiences this role will bring, because if I can help somebody by having a yarn and making their life easier, it’s a great thing to do.

“I’ve been in the industry for so long, I understand the different challenges faced by farmers and the difficulties of just needing someone to talk to after a bad day,” Craig adds.

Craig will be working alongside Norco dairy farmer, Ross Blanch who has been actively giving back to the community with Queensland Lifeline’s Farmer-to-Farmer helpline, and he feels confident knowing he can lean on Ross for support.

“Ross has years of experience in this field and knowing I can lean on him for support, advice and even just to have a chat with him myself fills me with the utmost confidence in my new role.

The Mental Health Support Officer role is newly created, and is exclusive to Norco farmers, where Craig is on hand to take calls from Norco farmers to lend a supportive and empathetic ear.

“It’s important for farmers to know they have someone they can connect with and have a deep understanding of the struggle’s farmers have, this new role will bring greater access to mental health support, Craig said.

Craig is eager to start offering support and wants all farmers to be aware that if somebody out there needs to talk, his phone is always on, and his door is wide open.

“I have firsthand experience of the daily life on the farm and enduring the devastating floods. I empathize with the constant struggle farmers face and endure, but I aspire to shift our mindset and start a conversation on how we really are,” Craig concludes.

About Norco Co-operative

Established in Byron Bay, New South Wales in 1895 Norco is a 100% Australian farmer owned dairy co-operative with 281 active members on 188 dairy farms in northern New South Wales and southeast Queensland. Annual milk production over 200 million litres. For more information visit https://norcofoods.com.au/

Upon questioning about milk prices, Norco reminded Australian Rural & Regional News that:

In 2023,

  • Norco dairy farmers received an extra 15 cents ($0.15) per litre of milk on Christmas Day; recognising the hard work of Norco famers 365 days of the year to provide households with delicious, great tasting dairy; and
  • Norco offered a record farmgate milk price increase last year taking the average price to 88 cents per litre ($0.88)

In 2022, Norco,

  • Increased milk price per litre to 84 cents ($0.84); and
  • Christmas bonus of an extra 10 cents per litre of milk ($0.10) was paid to farmers on Christmas Day

If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Headspace on 1800 650 890
ReachOut at au.reachout.com
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Head to Health at headtohealth.gov.au

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