- New Zealand’s dairy industry is under threat of disease, and many farmers will turn to their CA for advice
- In rural communities, CAs must be empathetic to mental health outcomes created by a financial crisis
- Rural CAs can be isolated, and the new My CA community hub coupled with networking events are a valuable source of support.
At first glance, dairy cows and chartered accountants don't seem to have much in common. However, for Trudi Ballantyne FCA, director of accounting firm the Business Results Group, there's more than a passing connection.
Ballantyne is based in Te Puke near the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand's agricultural heartland. It means many of her clients, and indeed fellow CAs in the region, rely heavily on the dairy industry. Moreover, right now, the sector is under threat.
In mid-2017, the bacterial disease Mycoplasma bovis (M.bovis) was identified in cattle on New Zealand's South Island. M.bovis is found around the world, but New Zealand was one of the last disease-free countries until 2017.
It is unknown how M.bovis entered the country, but the government isn't taking any risks. Over the next two years more than 150,000 cattle are expected to be culled in an attempt to eradicate the disease. Some dairy farmers may have to eliminate entire herds at an estimated total cost of NZ$278 million.
Ballantyne is no stranger to the impact of disease on primary industries. In 2010, Te Puke's kiwifruit industry came under threat from PSA - another bacterial disease.
During that crisis, Ballantyne worked with affected orchardists, Inland Revenue, and growers' groups to understand and mitigate the economic impact. She was involved in roadshows that alerted affected communities of both the possible impact and proposed solutions. As PSA spread, Ballantyne became a key contact point for other CAs seeking advice.
As Chair of CA ANZ's Rural Advisory Committee, Ballantyne knows from the PSA experience that many farmers affected by the M.bovis crisis will turn to their CAs for advice. "There will be tax issues that come out of it - and mental health issues," she notes. "How do CAs deal with it? We, as an industry, have to make sure they are prepared."
Dealing with mental health and financial crisis
Throughout the PSA crisis, many growers faced financial ruin, recalls Ballantyne. "They had to deal with banks at a level that they never had to deal with before. We had the big guns come down from Auckland, for example, which was pretty traumatic."
As the crisis wore on, more of Ballantyne's clients were forced through a devastating grieving process.
"One day, a husband and wife came in, and the wife said to me, "I can't leave him alone. I'm scared of what he might do."
"I remember one day, a husband and wife came in, and the wife said to me, "I can't leave him alone. I'm scared of what he might do."
Ballantyne is proud that she's been able to see her orchardist clients move from the precipice of mental and financial ruin, and "to be back making decisions for their business for the right reasons and to have that financial stability again. That is a real highlight."
My CA and networking can keep accountants in touch
Ballantyne believes the new "My CA" community platform currently being trialled by CA ANZ could be a valuable tool for members looking for advice or support in their dealings with clients affected by M.bovis. "We've already seen the sharing of some ideas that people hadn't thought of doing, particularly in relation to M.bovis," says Ballantyne.
The My CA platform can also support rural CAs finding it difficult to access support when its needed most. "There can be a lot of isolation among members," she explains. "Being able to interact with people who have similar concerns is very helpful. Having somewhere [like My CA] where CAs can engage and communicate about how to deal with these issues is going to be incredible."
Likewise, Ballantine believes that CA ANZ offers many valuable regional networking events that help rural CAs stay in touch with their colleagues. "I certainly keep an eye out for when [events] are on. I have attended events at Te Puke and Tauranga, although we also use webinars and conferences too."
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