Campaign aims to increase wellbeing of farmers

Former All Black and now mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan donned his "Auckland gumboots" to officially launch the Otago Daily Times-Rural Life Rural Champions campaign at the Wānaka A&P Show last night.

The campaign highlights farmers and growers making positive contributions to their communities as well as champions who work in the rural services industry, and has a theme of rural mental wellbeing.

Sir John, who has fought his own well-known battles with mental health, called on the farming community to normalise talking about mental health.

"As a farming community, I need you to bring it into your community halls ... normalise it. Change the dialogue, talk about it as much as you can."

Poor mental health was a "pandemic" and the high suicide rate among New Zealand farmers was something that had always intrigued him.

Talking to farmers, he was repeatedly told how they worried about the weather and the markets — factors out of their control.

Many were introverts and when under pressure they worked harder and isolated themselves.

Launching the 2024 Otago Daily Times Rural Champions campaign yesterday are Sir John Kirwan and...
Launching the 2024 Otago Daily Times Rural Champions campaign yesterday are Sir John Kirwan and last year’s winner Myfanwy Alexander with Nikita, a south Devon cow owned by Java South Devons, from Riversdale, at the Wānaka show. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
They needed to share their issues, be able to talk about them, get off the farm and do other things, he said.

"You’ve also got to be able to stop worrying about s... you can’t control. It took me five years to do that," he said.

Farmers had an "incredibly difficult job" — farming was one of the hardest industries in the world — and he wanted to see zero suicides in the farming community.

"Mental health is not failure, mental health is normal ... if the community doesn’t start talking about it, it’s going to stay hidden."

And for those that were having a tough time, "all it takes is a little bit of courage to say I’m struggling and you’ll be amazed at what comes out."

Delivering a message which was both sobering and inspiring, Sir John also shared some light moments with farmers, including how he was unlikely to leave his city lifestyle in Auckland for life on the land, despite clearly enjoying his day out.

"I would kill your animals, crash your tractor and I couldn’t sleep at night because I don’t have a streetlight outside my house."

To complete a nomination form for Rural Champions, visit