“The farmers will be happy with all this rain about, wouldn’t they?” a Melbourne friend asked me recently.
It was an innocent remark, but it highlights what an uphill battle the farming sector faces in spreading the message that the flooding across eastern Australia will create serious problems in terms of rural mental health.
Already, there have been reports of at least two farmer suicides in the wake of the devastating rain events of the past six weeks.
Yet it is clear our urban cousins are unlikely to comprehend the full damage of the deluge.
Compare the situation to the drought, where city dwellers were faced with confronting images of cracked dry dam beds and desolate paddocks devoid of a blade of grass.
This time round, once the immediate threat of the floodwaters, and the dramatic photo opportunity, pass we are left with a scene looking very close to the rural idyll – creeks running healthily, green paddocks and fat animals.
It would be hard for the untrained eye to pick the situation as being as dire as it was in the long dry days of 2006-07.
In many ways, however, 2010 has been even crueller. In the drought, farmers had an indication early on that the season was not going favourably and reined in inputs, whereas this year, there have been plenty of trips to the local merchandise store for fertiliser and chemical.
There’s also the psychological damage done by seeing a year that could potentially have wiped the slate clean on close to a decade’s worth of drought-induced debt ruined by too much of a good thing.
With this in mind, all within the agricultural sector need to make sure the seriousness of the issue is highlighted right across Australia.
There’s an impatience with the farming sector in metropolitan centres and even among those living in regional and rural towns that the farming sector is too quick to come with its hand out in hard times.
While the truth of the matter is that assistance programs such as exceptional circumstance (EC) payments is a drop in the ocean compared to the aid given to other Australian industries, such as manufacturing, that is the perception.
The fight is now to explain to the wider public just how difficult the 2010 harvest rain will make it for grain producers, both financially and emotionally.
On another front, all those who know farmers, or those in rural-based businesses, need to take a bit of time out to ensure their friends and families are handling the reality of having a potential bumper year turn into a mouldy disaster in front of their eyes.
Grain based businesses are aware of the stresses growers are under, and those that are specifically training staff to deal with farmers under severe strain are to be applauded.
Meanwhile, all of us can follow the advice from websites such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline and ensure everyone gets through this difficult period as best as possible.
Lifeline – 131 114 www.lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au