Business Rural Spring 2021

| 43 MEAT & WOOL » Matt Simpson Keeping the black dog at bay Three generations: Peter, Jack and Matt Simpson. Matt Simpson at Mt Nessing. Richard Loader O n the eve of a Howl of Protest, the nationwide protest of thousands of Kiwi Farmers against the burgeoning raft of Government legislation and regulations impacting the lives of those in the rural community who feed us, South Canterbury farmer Matt Simpson reflected on the farm and farming life that he unquestionably adores. With his wife Victoria, Matt owns and operates Ranui Station, the 4,100 hectare property in the Fairlie Basin that has been in his family since the 1950s. Next door, Matt’s brother farms the land that has been in the Simpson family for one hundred years. “I just love farming and couldn’t think about doing anything else,” says Matt. “It’s my life. We were brought up here and you feel an emotional connection with the land, the house and all the rest of the infrastructure. I’ve been part of its story all my life; you’ve seen it, grown it and helped it become what it is today, it is just a very special thing. And we live in a beautiful part of the country — we’re bloody lucky, we’re extremely lucky.” But as Matt reflects on how lucky, his family and others in the rural community are to be living where they are, he is also deeply concerned for the mental health of those who have chosen New Zealand’s primary sector as their career, their livelihood. The term mental health and depression go hand in hand but sometimes we refer to feeling a little depressed when we feel a little sad about something that hasn’t gone to plan. But real depression is different. “Someone once described depression to me as waking up in the morning only to have some bugger throw layers and layers of warm, wet blankets over you,” says Matt. Slowly the world gets a lot darker and it’s harder to breath, it’s incredibly debilitating and it endures. Finally you get back to sleep, rest- lessly, only to wake up and the blankets get thrown over you again, and again and again. “ Matt has never suffered from any mental illness of his own and his interest in it is ultimately about saving lives, but more importantly it is about engag- ing with a support network that people can use as a pathway to get help either for themselves, or those they care about who are struggling. “There are very limited support networks for peo- ple to turn to and the GPs are absolutely stretched. There’s no real professional help that people can go and see and consult with. There needs to be some serious investment in professional support thrown into mental health. There’s nothing new about this. And it’s not just the rural community, it’s also for the urban community.” In late July the Fairlie community ran an event called Agri-Connect McKenzie: Turning Connec- tions into Actions. With a focus on mental health the event has the goal of establishing tangible avenues on how to get help. Matt says the day’s event was inspired by a similar session held in the Ashburton district that featured Craig Wiggins. Craig was a leading organiser and facilitator of the Ashburton Agri Connect rural mental health seminar, which taught attendees the tell-tale signs of mental strain and where to direct farmers for help.“We thought it would be really cool to do something like that in Fairlie. Craig facilitated the day, which included presentations from farmers who have come close to the brink, as well as those around them who have provided support, telling their story about how they coped. In the afternoon representatives from Rural Support will also be speaking along with the Police and a local agribusi- ness consultant.” Matt says in addition to the stresses of drought, floods, harsh winters and stock prices — the usual stressors in a farmers life — the amount of Government regulations and legislation has been unbearably onerous, spurring mental health issues within the rural community. “This is just the tip of the iceberg and if we don’t get something cranking up shortly we will be in for a hell of storm I would say. We feel as though we’re being vilified. While farmers are supposed to be resilient and tough buggers there’s actually a break- ing point and the Government is poking the bear, with its head in the sand. What makes it worse, a lot of the stuff they’ve proposed isn’t practical or achievable and the tar- gets they’ve set are ridiculous. And the media just keeps on reporting bad news. No good news comes out about farming at the moment.” Matt realises that this article preaches to a choir of the converted but hopes that others may be inspired to hold similar events to the one held in Fairlie, for the sake of farmers. Alexanders are proud to support Ranui Station Ltd, Matt and Victoria Simpson.