Australian farmers provide the world's best produce, but in times of drought or floods, their core role is taken away. Thankfully, there's support in these times.

Climate plays a critical role in the fortunes of farmers, where wealth is gauged not only by the balance sheet but by the state of their mental health. Good seasons mean good times, but dry times and droughts not only affect income but the wellbeing of the farming community. And it's here where Aussie Helpers stand ready to give a hand.

Farmers are universally known as a resilient bunch, able to withstand fires, floods and droughts as they pursue their livelihoods. But sometimes they need a hand, and Tash Kocks knows that all too well. As the chief executive officer of charity Aussie Helpers, she oversees the support of primary producers who are often in dire need, but are sometimes too self-reliant to ask.

Giving back

Since the not-for-profit organisation started, those contributions have been impressive. To date in the 21 years of its existence, Aussie Helpers has been on hand and on farm to help more than 18,000 farmers. That support has been in the form of $2 million in gift cards, almost 600 hampers, 3,500 bales of hay and 200,000 litres of drinking water.

Aussie Helpers' goal is to see farmers through the hard times, and that support is often paid forward when better times return.

The organisation also estimates it has helped to save more than 10,000 head of livestock across the two decades. Aussies Helpers prides itself on giving support to the farming community to face financial and physical challenges thrown up by extremes in climate.

Tash is quick to point out that farmers have tried to become more prepared for dry times and don't immediately look for a handout when things get tough.

That has included practical things like improving water supplies and putting away funds. Yet even the most resilient and prepared farmers sometimes struggle, she says.

Making a difference

'They could have done as much as they could to prepare but that might not be enough and we encourage them not to wait before asking for help.'

Government support can be available, but it can be difficult to obtain and can require filling out paperwork and jumping through hoops to prove eligibility. Tash says that is where Aussie Helpers differs. A member of the team will sit down with farmers face-to-face to determine exactly what is needed, whether that's a load of hay, a bill paid or something as basic as drinking water and groceries in what Tash describes as 'a boost to get going and the will to keep fighting'.

'It is essential that farmers know that they are not alone,' Tash says.'They could have done as much as they could to prepare but that might not be enough and we encourage them not to wait before asking for help.'

Big areas, small businesses

There is also the appreciation that many of those that Aussie Helpers assist are essentially small businesses, potentially run by just a husband and wife, often with no paid staff. There are no huge teams to support each other, Tash says, and this can play on mental wellbeing.

Aussie Helpers' goal is to see these people through the hard times, and that support is often paid forward when better times return. Those who were once on the list for help sometimes turn around and donate to the charity in what Tash describes as a 'real feel good moment'.

Going the extra mile

Away from the direct farmer contacts and support, Aussie Helpers quietly works away in rural communities they know are struggling. One of these initiatives is the 'Brekkie in a Bag' program established after visiting areas in Far Western Queensland. Noticing children were coming to school without eating, Aussie Helpers partnered with Sanitarium to provide breakfast packs. This has a direct flow-on effect to keeping kids in school and learning effectively.

So while preparations for tough times can be made, the message Tash has for farmers is clear: don't hesitate to ask for help.'These are people that are growing the best produce in the world and are salt-of-the-earth souls,' Tash says. 'We offer support at the time, but it's not a one-off. We offer ongoing assistance and ask how they are doing.'

There plenty of resources available for those looking for support:

  • Aussie Helpers provides financial support and wellbeing assistance to farmers.
  • Are you bogged mate can offer mental health support specifically for the rural industry.
  • This is a conversation starter provides a free phone, text and counselling service to tradies, truckies, rural and blue collar workers.
  • Drought angels offers disaster relief to farmers in the form of financial assistance, food hampers, care packs and mental wellbeing support.
  • Rural Aid can provide free counselling, fodder, financial assistance, domestic water supplies and educational resources.
  • The National Centre for Farmer Health has information and advice for farmers and their families.
  • Farmsafe Australia has advice about staying safe on farms.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, contact:

  • Beyond Blue: 24/7 Mental health advice and support. Call 1300 22 4636.
  • Lifeline: 24/7 Crisis support. Call 13 11 14.