Call for crisis support

Jo FulwoodCountryman

When a farmer dies, who picks up the pieces and carries on the family business?

In so many of these situations, it’s the women left behind after the tragedy of an unexpected death who are forced to become farm managers, regardless of their skills or expertise.

And for these women, support structures appear to be few and far between.

Cunderdin farmer Wendy Carter, who took over the running of the family farming business after the sudden death of her husband Rod, believes more should be done to support women during such a crisis.

“I did a lot of research in those early days, and unless I wanted to do a four year university course, there really was no simple study program that could assist me.

“There is no basic short course on how to run a farm.

“Men build up a bank of knowledge over time that I had no access to, which made life extremely difficult in those early days.”

Mrs Carter believes women who are directors of their farms also need to make themselves more aware of the daily operations of the business, in case the unspeakable ever happens to them.

“When it happened to me, I found that not only was there a lack of emotional support and professional support networks, but I didn’t know how to run the day-to-day operations of the farm,” she said.

“When something like this happens, you do have a choice, you can sell the farm, lease it out or choose to carry on farming.

“While the choice to stay and take over the business wasn’t difficult, it was the need to learn everything so quickly while at the same time going through the grieving process that’s been so hard.

“Death comes at a very inconvenient time for everybody, it doesn’t happen when you’ve got things all planned out and done.”

Mrs Carter said simple but essential information such as passwords, and a day-to-day diary, should be shared between farm partners.

“Passwords were one of the most difficult things to find. My husband kept everything in his head and didn’t write that information down. We had a terrible time doing any business in those early days because it was so difficult to access any of our farming information online,” she said.

“I’ve started my own diary now, so I know when to do things throughout the year, particularly in a financial sense.”

Far from being broken by the events of 18 months ago, this resilient and passionate farming woman now wants to help others going through periods of grief and uncertainty, particularly when there is a farming business thrown into the mix.

Mrs Carter was a recent guest speaker at a WAFarmers meeting in York, and presented a motion to be taken to the WA Farmers General conference, requesting the organisation be a gateway to assist grieving farming families.

She said she was also keen to establish a support group for women in these types of situations.

“Sadly this is happening to people all too often — people are going through what I went through and I would like to hear their stories, and I’d like to share my stories,” she said.

“The local community has been extremely supportive which I am very grateful for. The grieving process is a very personal journey, healing takes time.

“But Rod’s legacy will continue with help from my strong faith in God, my team on the farm and my family, and I hope Rod would be proud of us.”

Mrs Carter’s daughter Linzi, a well-known WA artist, has recreated aCountryman photo taken in 2102 as a memorial to her late father Rod.

“This photo captures all that was great about our farm,” she said.

“It was such a precious moment in time with my Dad and my brother working alongside each other in our farming business which is over 100 years old.

“I painted this picture to honour my Mum and the courage she has shown in taking over the business during such a difficult time.”

Through her artwork, Ms Carter is hoping to attract greater awareness and funding to promote art opportunities for people living in the Wheatbelt.

WAFarmers chief executive Stephen Brown is working with the zone and relevant representatives to finesse the details of the Mrs Carter’s motion.

The decision to take this motion to the 2017 WAFarmers Annual Conference will be determined in July this year.

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