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Former farmer joins DPI Rural Support Worker team

Sally Bryant, Friday April 4, 2014 - 12:25 EDT
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Former livestock reporter for Meat and Livestock Australia, Ted O'Kane is adjusting to his new role as one of three rural support workers in NSW. - ABC

Ted O'Kane says the past five weeks have been an interesting experience as he's come to grips with his new role as a Rural Support Worker with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.

The primary industries side of the operation is not new to him; a former farmer, a former rural journalist, he knows his way around the industry pretty well.

And as a reporter for the National Livestock Reporting Service, he is in constant contact with farmers, with prices, with the issues facing rural industries in the 2000's.

But now, in his role as a support, as an advisor and referral point for farmers battling to survive current drought and other issues, he says he's seeing some very difficult situations.

Ted says the industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades and many farmers are now facing some tough decisions, some hard choices.

"I see people who are in a very bad way, who are really struggling and in some cases, it shouldn't have got to this stage.

"People are struggling to make a go of it and they've been trying to go it alone, without any advice or assistance and that's very hard."

With practical experience in rural industries, with a voice that many farmers will recognise from livestock market reports, Ted is hitting the ground running with claim to credibility that many other support workers would envy.

However he says it's one thing to have a practical manner, to be able to understand what farmers are talking about and to be able to show an understanding of the industry, and quite another to get farmers ready to listen to advice.

"It's all very well, leading them to the water; then you have to get them ready to drink it."

Ted says that the first step in sorting out what can often be a complex net of financial and other problems on-farm is sitting down and having that first conversation, a very honest and clear assessment of what the situation is.

"People function, but at a pretty low level when they get in a state of depression or melancholy.

"If you're in drought or you're in hardship, you're not functioning at your best and you're not assessing the situation around you.

"Let's face it, people on farms are often extremely busy, often with outside income - trying to run two jobs, (and cope with) family pressures.

"If the farm situation is deteriorating around them, they really don't have time to analyse it, properly understand their limitations in that situation.

"So if you can go and talk to someone about it, lay it on the line and work out what you're going to do about it, often it really is that simple."


© ABC 2014

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