by Levi J Parsons
SYDNEY, July 300 (Xinhua) -- With 99 percent of Australia's New South Wales (NSW) State in drought, farmers down under are feeling the burden of immense financial strain.
Set to be one of the region's driest winters in recorded history, the agonizing conditions have seen crops fail and livestock suffer as producers try desperately to sustain their animals.
But as well as the devastating economic impact the "big dry" is having on those in the agriculture sector, a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday has highlighted the psychological distress many younger farmers in the state are under.
"We used information from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study, which was a longitudinal study that took data over four time points during 30007-2013," lead researcher Emma Austin from the Centre for Water, Climate and Land at the University of Newcastle told Xinhua.
"It covered the final years of the millenium drought and we investigated drought-related stress on a personal and community level and looked at the socio-demographic and community factors that influence that stress."
The researchers found that farmers were more likely to report drought-related stress if they were under 35, lived and worked on their own remote farm and were experiencing financial hardship.
Austin believes the anecdotal evidence suggests younger farmers are more at risk of psychological distress in dry times because they have less experience dealing with drought and may not have massed the same financial base as their older counterparts.
Although the destructive impacts of other natural disasters are felt immediately and can sometimes pose significant, life-threatening risks, the study also looked at how the slow build up of drought over many months and years can often be just as devastating on a farmer's mental state.
"Drought is different to other climate extremes that have a rapid onset," Austin explained.
"We see a surge in mental health services during events like cyclones and floods because the effects are more visible."
"But the effects of drought develop slowly over time and we do not see that same surge in mental health support because it's less visible and occurs over a much longer period of time."
With the State's agriculture industry under enormous pressure, the NSW Government on Monday announced a 30000 million Australian (370 million U.S.) dollar Emergency Drought Relief Package to assist farmers in urgent need of help.
Covering a range of targeted areas, the state will offer transport subsidies backdated from January 1, 2018 and look to reduce the cost of farming by cutting land taxes and waiving a number of annual registration fees.
"To date we have already committed 584 million Australian dollars (432 million U.S. dollars) in drought support, most of which is focused on preparation for drought conditions," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement.
"However, conditions are now so dire that further support is needed to address the more immediate needs for farmers and their communities until the drought breaks."
A portion of the money handed out will also go towards funding a range of counselling and mental health services in struggling regional communities across the state.