Waikato Regional Council leader Russ Rimmington says his decision to force through a $50,000 a year grant to the Rural Support Trust was right.
Mr Rimmington used his casting vote to push the proposal through. The money will be paid for the next three years.
“It should have been a unanimous decision,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t do enough lobbying.”
Rural Support Trusts provide free and confidential support for rural people and farming families across the country.
Council Chief Executive Chris McLay said staff work closely with the trust due to their regular face-to-face contact with farmers and provide valuable advice and training for recognising signs when rural people might need assistance.
Mr Rimmington, who has been a dairy farmer for 40 years, says stress has never been greater on the rural community.
“I have never seen farmers so tired; they are unsung heroes, but they can’t afford extra staff and their mental health is suffering.
He said a side effect of the quite appropriate clamp down on drink driving had been that isolated farmers were meeting far less frequently to discuss their problems and work at the rural tavern.
“There has been a social change. Those talks about weather, money and prices don’t happen as they once did. Farmers are under enormous stress and banks have become like robots – and they give farmers no slack.”
Figures from 2016 show the rural suicide rate in New Zealand was 13.8 per 100,000 people, in comparison to the urban rate of 11.
“Fonterra is moving in this area, but more needs to be done,” Mr Rimmington said.