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Off-farm work not always the answer

Darrin Lee and Stephanie Bligh-Lee with Courtney and Ellie. Darrin, interviewed by the NEAR project team, worked off farm on a two and one roster from November 2007 until March 2008, conscious that his income was providing for the family’s living expenses but not the farm debt.A COMMON public misconception is that farmers struggling through drought can fix their financial problems by ‘getting a job on the mines’.

The Agriculture and Food Department’s North Eastern Agricultural Region (NEAR) strategy is working to improve business and community resilience to drought.

As part of this strategy, the department says it has been examining how to approach off-farm employment in a dry season.

Money to be made through off-farm work does little to help reduce farm debt.

This thought was echoed by respondents to a survey conducted by the department under the NEAR strategy.

Farmers interviewed who worked off farm in 2006 and 2007 all understood that their wages would not be sufficient to reduce their debt and the action of getting off farm may be more beneficial for mental health than for the finances.

An income from off-farm employment has the ability to reduce or stop drawings on the farm business.

Such an income is often sufficient to provide all day to day living expenses and it might even be used to take a holiday without feeling as if the farm is paying for it.

The mental benefit of an off-farm break cannot be underestimated during a drought.

It counts for a great deal more than money.

Interviews with growers revealed working off farm provided immediate relief from potentially depressive situations on farm.

This ‘clearing of the mind’ was listed as the biggest benefit for farmers enduring a dry season.

Working away from the farm will shift the focus to new and different tasks and provides time to consider all relevant facts without the immediate, ongoing impact of drought stress.

When returning to the farm, better decisions are made to the benefit of the business.

Another aspect addressed by off-farm employment that improves mental health is succession.

Of the growers interviewed, most had begun to consider succession more seriously since faced with drought and the requirement to work away.

Having a dynamic succession plan provides reason for off-farm employment.

Being employed outside the farm is longer-term thinking than selling up and leaving the industry.

Employment is short term and the reason for going off farm is to be able to continue farming beyond the drought.

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