Thursday, August 11, 2022

AWD course helps navigate farming challenges

Southland dairy farmer Brooke Flett shares how a new programme designed to boost the resilience of rural communities helps her navigate the challenges of farming.

Whereabouts are you farming?
I work on our family dairy farm in Southland. I’m the fourth generation to farm here and I’ve been back on-farm for seven years. We’re winter milking 680 cows with the help of five staff, including myself.

What do you enjoy about farming?
I’m very fortunate I’m farming with family. My parents are still involved and I’m farming alongside my brother. I really enjoy being able to work with them and carry on my parents’ farming business.
I also like the freedom and flexibility – some days you’re doing an afternoon of admin, other days you’re outside working in the sunshine. You’re your own boss. I like the way farming works too – you get out what you put in – and can see the benefits of your hard work.

Farming brings its fair share of pressure too. Tell us about that.
Yes, Dad and I recently about that, because we have all been working some long days and it feels never-ending. We were trying to work out what changes we can make and being quite honest with ourselves that as much as we need time off to refresh, that’s not always going to be possible unless we make changes with things we can control.

There’s always a long to-do list on-farm. Getting breaks can be hard, can’t it?
Yes, but I think we’re often our own worst enemies because we love the work. But the reality is you’ve got to take some time every now and then to have a break. As I told Dad, it’s about being in a position to decide for yourself when you need a sleep in, even if you decide not to do it. I don’t mind doing the hours, but if the option isn’t there, and you’re completely head down, bum up all the time without a break, that’s when farming gets hard.

Busy as you are, you enrolled in the Know Your Mindset course on managing pressure and change. What made you sign up?
I’d done other AgriWomen’s courses and liked them. A course that was going to stop me feeling too stressed or overwhelmed sounded like a great idea. There’s a lot of content out there about this, but this course had a proper rural lens to it. It’s easy to just say ‘do this and remove stress from your life’ but it’s hard to make it work in a farming context because there’s so much about farming you can’t control, like the weather. It can feel impossible at times.

So, what did you learn?
I learnt to recognise the early signs of stress, what my particular triggers were and the main challenges to my wellbeing on-farm. Once you can name these things you can start to navigate through them, rather than waiting till you’re so stressed out you can’t think.

How do you navigate them?
It’s about prioritising what needs to happen next to reduce your stress. Those priorities are based on your own values – why you’re farming and what you’re looking to get out of it.

How have you applied this back on-farm?
These days I’m much more aware of what I add to my to-do list and say ‘yes’ to. For example, I love being part of our wider community, but I can’t say yes to everything because that just adds pressure. So now I choose things that align best with my values. That determines where I’ll put time and energy.

What about time off?
Yes, that’s been a good outcome. I now consciously schedule time to get off-farm to do things that connect with my values, whether it’s doing things with friends off-farm or taking trips away to a farming conference. I’ve allowed those things to be a priority because I realise they’re important to me and my wellbeing.

What was the biggest change in your mindset? Give me an example.
It’s funny, I’d always heard messages about the importance of keeping active for your mental health, but I thought, the last thing I need to do is play sport after a day’s farming. But this year, I changed my mind and joined a netball team and I’m really enjoying being part of it.

How does this benefit the farm?
When you’re in the right headspace, you make better decisions on-farm. You also have the energy to keep going despite day-to-day challenges like the weather or staff issues.

This all sounds obvious, but many farmers don’t do it, do they?
You can become isolated in farming. One of the benefits to signing up for the course is that it instantly connects you to a network of other people and to all these resources that can help you. There’s no point waiting for that help when you’re already at a low point.
These are exceptional times with lots of issues to grapple with in farming – covid-related labour shortages, weather events, changes in the economy. How has the course helped you handle those?
Managing change is about prioritising what needs your most urgent attention and problem-solving that. It’s also about your mindset. There are always going to be challenges and changes in farming, but you still have a choice about how you’re going to react to them. That’s why this programme is so helpful, it gives you the energy and thinking capacity to move forward.

What’s your message to someone on-farm reading this? Why should they enroll in a course like this?
As a farmer, you take time to talk to fertiliser reps to learn about options for growing your grass. This course is the same thing. You’ve got to take time to look after yourself and to grow your own skills. That way, you’ll have the mindset required to make better decisions in your business and make more time for the things that are important to you. It’s an investment in you.

More: For more information on “Know your Mindset. Do What Matters” visit www.awdt.org.nz
To find out what else could work for you and ‘lock it in’, visit www.farmstrong.co.nz

This article first appeared in the July 2022 issue of Dairy Farmer.

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