In the face of a rapidly changing agricultural industry, a group of farmers and rural community members in Benalla Rural City are determined to encourage hope and hard thinking at a forum on Wednesday 26 February at the Benalla Lakeside Community Centre commencing at 5pm.
The forum, organised by the community themselves, will bring people together to hear experts from different sectors of the industry, as well as a question and answer session addressing issues such as farming diversity, how farming impacts on families, health and wellbeing, and the challenging issue of succession planning.
They have brought in some heavy hitters to coax farmers in from their unending work, with guest speakers and panellists including Tim McCrae, Chief Economist with Meat & Livestock Australia, Brian Cummins, an expert on the Australian grazing industry, the President of Voice for Indi, Alana Johnson, as well as agronomists, representatives from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Benalla Health, Landcare, and local farmers. Even popular actor/entertainer John Walker (best known for his role in Channel 7’s Full Frontal) has agreed to host the Q & A session.
“People need to know what their options are,” says Laurie Horne, one of the organisers, who has been farming in one form or another since he was sixteen. “They are sometimes hesitant to explore their options, and it’s hard to get motivated [to do that] when you aren’t getting any joy from what you’re doing.”\
Ivan Lister, a rural outreach worker in Benalla Rural City, says that the impact of change and uncertainty in modern farming is having a huge impact on farmer’s health, many of whom are well into their sixties but who are doggedly independent.
“I keep hearing the same thing from farm to farm – it’s a daily struggle to make money, stay viable. And they feel like they don’t have a voice,” he says. “People are isolated, they lack confidence, they feel like they are on the edge.”
Other organisers include farmer Angus Howell, who had life threatening conditions picked up at a screening at a recent Sustainable Farming Families forum, and who now advocates among his peers for regular health checks.
John Harrison, a farmer from Warrenbayne who says despite it all he still loves farming, wants other people to leave the forum feeling like they have a better understanding of their choices.
He says: “I love it. On my farm, I’m it, my time is mine. I’m responsible for my place on the tree. I want other people to go home feeling some hope and joy, thinking about some more positive stuff, that they still have a chance.”
The Mayor of Benalla Rural City Cr Barbara Alexander says that many farmers are dealing with overwhelming challenges at all levels of their businesses.
“This forum will give the farmers an opportunity to get together, share their stories and realise that they aren’t on their own. Hopefully they will also have a chance to brainstorm some solutions for remaining sustainable into the future. Farming is a vital part of our region and the Council wants to do all it can to support our farmers,” she said.
The forum has been developed in partnership with the Benalla Rural City Council, the Department of Primary Industries, with the support of Meat and Livestock Australia, Landmark Industries, Peter Davis Rural, NAB Agribusiness, the GeckoClan Landcare group, the Rotary Club of Benalla, Rose City Vets, Benalla Health, and Member for Benalla Dr Bill Sykes.
For further information about the forum or to register attendance, please contact the Council’s Community Development team on (03) 5760 2635 or (03) 5760 2632.