FROM the millennium drought to Black Saturday, and the widespread floods of 2011, Ted Gretgrix has provided support for farmers through some of northern Victoria's worst natural disasters in centuries.
With the Bendigo Rural Financial Counselling Service, he has seen first-hand the impact mounting debt could have on rural families and communities.
"You encounter individual cases that are just heartbreaking," he said.
"When you're dealing with some people's circumstances beyond their control, you've got to have great empathy."
Mr Gretgrix will retire as the service's north central executive officer this week after 23 years with the Rural Financial Counselling Service.
The region covered from Swan Hill to Mansfield, taking in a whole range of different agricultural industries and including 774 clients.
There are always some farmers in financial trouble for a whole range of reasons.Ted Gretgrix
While farming techniques have advanced, the nature of financial management has evolved and farm sizes have increased since 1991, he said the role of rural financial counsellors had remained constant.
"Our role is pretty much the same as it always has been," Mr Gretgrix said.
"There are always some farmers in financial trouble for a whole range of reasons.
"If farmers are in a position where they are completely debt-laden, they need to get out of farming - try and sell their farm to a neighbour or another buyer."
The government-funded rural financial counsellors become the most involved in rural industries during and after natural disasters, providing debt relief strategies and a financial recovery plan.
Mr Gretgrix came into rural financial counselling just before the drought of 1994, and he said the millennium drought had by far the biggest impact on farmers.
"That drought really cranked up in Victoria in 2002 - that was a shocking year," he said.
"During that period, every second year was a total disaster rainfall-wise.
"Just because you've had a bad year, doesn't automatically mean the next year will be good."
Mr Gretgrix became executive officer of the north central region in 2006 as part of a nationwide restructure of the service.
Rural Financial Counselling Service North Central chairman Peter Lakey said Mr Gretgrix's "experience, knowledge of the service and passion for financial counselling" meant he fit the role well.
He will enjoy a retirement dinner at the Foundry Hotel next Friday night.