Job security stress: the flow-on effect of no rain

Author: | Date: 17 Dec 2019

image of Drew Penberthy
Northern NSW grower and agronomist Drew Penberthy says when your business is drought affected involving your staff in key decision-making conversations is an important way to reduce their stress. Photo GRDC

It is one of the toughest questions northern New South Wales grain grower and agronomist Drew Penberthy has faced: how to keep his team of skilled, young agronomists on the payroll in one of the worst droughts in his region’s history?

He knows he is not alone in his struggle to find the answer, but he says involving your staff in business conversations and being supportive of each other is vital to making it work.

Mr Penberthy is the principal of Penberthy Agricultural Consultants (PenAgCon) and has three agronomists working on his team based in the Bellata and Narrabri regions.

He was also a key speaker at a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Dealing with the Dry forum held in northern New South Wales recently.

It was one of a series of forums initiated to bring specialist advice on topics such as agronomy, farm business, government support and debt management direct to regional communities.

GRDC Grower Relations Manager – North, Susan McDonnell, said the events, captured in a new GRDC video series, were about delivering practical information and support to grain growers in drought affected regions during some of the toughest seasons on record.

“It was invaluable to have someone with Drew’s experience share his insights into the human impact of the drought and what people can do to hold on to key staff and reduce the stress and pressure they feel at this time too,” Mrs McDonnell said.

“We felt Drew’s presentation offered information and insights that would be relevant to many growers and agricultural business operators, so we have made his talk available as a short video.”

Mr Penberthy said as a grower and business owner he’d recognised that it was important to include his staff in decision-making conversations so they were aware, informed and could have input going forward.

He said many farming business operators had investigated all options in terms of keeping employees busy and were using the dry times to undertake fencing, soil works, erosion control or had initiated off-farm work utilising excavators, dozers and trucks.

“These may be things we normally don’t do, but to keep staff employed many farm businesses are looking at all their options,” Mr Penberthy said.

“These are still a significant cost to the business, but coming out of the drought, things like improved infrastructure will make for a better farming enterprise and importantly will have added value to your property.”

Mr Penberthy also suggested growers look at free courses for staff, or study trips that were supported and offered by organisations such as the GRDC.

“I also think it is important to make sure your employees take holidays while there is less work pressure. Spending some time with your family and having a break from the drought is really important for your mental health.”

While not all agricultural businesses will be in a position to retain staff through the drought, Mr Penberthy emphasised the importance of keeping quality people in the regions/rural areas.

“I understand not every business is in the position to keep staff on, but if we lose people out here and they move away for work, I can’t see them coming back when the drought breaks and that will be a huge loss for our industry and our community.”

Closer to home, the experienced agronomist encouraged people to look out for each other during the Christmas period.

“Personally, I think this is a time to check in on each other and make sure your neighbours and mates are doing okay,” he said.

“And remember spouses, partners and children, who are all affected and carry a lot of the burden. This is the worst drought we’ve seen in history, but we will get through because we are a resilient mob out here.”

The GRDC also has a dedicated web page to provide access to the latest research data and practical agronomic advice to assist with on-farm decision making.

The Dealing with the Dry page provides easy access to economic, agronomic and farming information as well as practical resources on nutrient removal, ground cover, weed management and other impacts.

Rural financial counsellors are available in each state to provide financial counselling support to growers. 

Other useful resources include: Lifeline, lifeline.org.au, 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue, beyondblue.org.au, 1300 224 636.

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GRDC Project code: SEF1903-001SAX