Mentor initiative gains limited traction

An initiative to provide rural business support has drawn little response in Otago and Southland, but there are plans to reach out to farming leaders who could provide assistance as rural mentors.

Business Mentors New Zealand (BMNZ) launched the initiative in October last year, in response to high rural suicide and stress rates, as well as other factors such as the droughts of the 2012-13 summer.

So far, two rural businesses had requested support in Southland and one in Otago.

BMNZ Southland agent Scott Whyte said reasons for low uptake likely included better conditions in Southland during the drought period than elsewhere in New Zealand, and a reluctance to ask for help.

However, the programme was a good chance to try to find more experienced farmers who could act as business mentors, he said.

''If there are any experienced farmers looking to put back into the industry it would be great to hear from them if they want to support young guys coming through or impart their knowledge.''

Otago Southland Employers Association operations and business development manager and BMNZ Otago agent John Rigby said he thought people were hesitant to ask for help from a mentorship point of view as ''generally, farmers just get on with the job''.

Ideas for improving the programme and reaching out to those in need of support would possibly include creating more exposure, or channelling the programme through a body such as Federated Farmers, Mr Rigby said.

BMNZ national agency manager Lisa Ford said BMNZ was trying to make people realise asking for help was not a sign of weakness, just an indication of someone trying to grow a business.

Mrs Ford said she was not surprised by the low numbers experienced, but the initiative would continue to be available for the next few months.

Supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the initiative waived the $150 Business Mentors registration fee for businesses where a medium-scale drought was declared, with the intention of reducing any barriers for businesses considering requesting assistance.

- by Leith Huffadine