Sue Slattery is a Farm Household Case Officer (FHCO) at the Department of Human Services, and works with farmers in north and northwest Victoria. While the role has its challenges, Sue finds her job satisfying as she knows she is helping farmers and their families.
‘I like to talk to people and I’ve often been a sounding board for their ideas on how to move forward with their farm,’ Sue said.
‘It’s nice to know they feel supported by a FHCO and can talk openly with me.’
Sue supports farmers receiving Farm Household Allowance – a three-year payment that helps farmers in financial hardship.
‘I have learnt so much about farming,’ says Sue, who started working as a FHCO two years ago.
‘I didn’t come from a farming background but I’ve always been interested in working with farmers. The people I work with are very varied, and their business and individual circumstances are always unique.
‘Farm Household Allowance has been a big positive for lots of the small towns around Bendigo. It has meant there is still money in the community to spend.’
Many crop farmers in Sue’s area started receiving the payment during the drought years of 2015 and 2016 while dairy farmers began receiving the payment after the dramatic drop in milk price in 2017.
Another way Sue believes Farm Household Allowance has helped farmers is by allowing some to take time to evaluate their business.
‘One farmer realised he could be operating his farm smarter by employing contractors and covering the costs through income he earned away from the farm. Because he was receiving FHA, he was able to study at TAFE and have his course fees paid for. This is an example of the kind of support farmers are able to receive,’ Sue said.
Sue works closely with the Rural Financial Counselling Service. ‘They are invaluable,’ says Sue. ‘A lot of farmers are already connected to the service. But if they’re not I’ll refer them to it.’
Many farmers have seen turnarounds since drought conditions have eased but Sue said many still face tough times. It is during these times that farmers will be able to rely on FHCOs like Sue to support them and their families.