Thursday, April 25, 2024

Covering the basics

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Tasman FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand finalist Roshean Woods comes to the Young Farmer competition from a different background to many of her fellow finalists – but that gives her a range of perspectives, both from having worked on a farm and visiting farms in the course of her work.
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Roshean, a farm systems scientist with DairyNZ, grew up in Timaru and excelled at sciences. Her interest in the agricultural sector was sparked by a talk at her school by representatives from Lincoln University and DairyNZ outlining the opportunities for scientists in the industry.

She gained a Bachelor of Science degree from Lincoln, as a DairyNZ Scholar, majoring in environmental bio-geoscience and plant science, followed by Honours focused on greenhouse gases, specifically nitrous oxide from soils and dairy effluent. She spent a year as a DairyNZ and AgResearch science intern and then returned to Lincoln to do her PhD researching how forages can reduce nitrate leaching in soils.

Along the way, she began to gain practical experience on farms.

Her first introduction was at Lincoln University’s research dairy farm, followed by a summer working at a commercial dairy farm.

During that time, she experienced a workplace accident when the two-wheeler she was riding hit a plank on a laneway and tipped her off. The experience has made her very aware of the importance of good health and safety practices, including keeping work areas free of hazards – and wearing the right PPE.

“I’d been given basic training in how to use the bike and was wearing a helmet and not travelling very fast as I was very aware of being new to riding the bike,” Roshean said. “But hitting the plank still tipped me over and I burned my leg on the bike.

“Usually, I would have been wearing full overalls but it was a very hot day, so for the first time I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt to work – if I’d been fully covered, I might have been better protected. The rest of my summer working on the farm was spent with my leg bandaged, trying very hard to keep it clean. The scars are fading now, but it’s a permanent reminder.”

After completing her doctorate, Roshean joined a farm environment consultancy in Canterbury, before moving to her current role with DairyNZ 18 months ago. While studying, she had also joined Christchurch City Young Farmers.

“They were very welcoming and a lot of my introduction to farm workplace health and safety has come through Young Farmers and the information provided by industry organisations,” she said.

“Also practical things at Young Farmers like how to get on and off a tractor, maintaining three points of contact.

“At the consultancy, I was doing a lot of farm systems modelling, which involved interacting with farmers to get a really good understanding of the farms and practices. Now, when I go out on farms I am mainly assisting our technical teams or meeting with farmers about our research projects.

“We always get in touch with the farmer to let them know we are coming and to try and arrange to meet them when we arrive,” she said. 

“A lot of farmers use farm health and safety apps now. Often there will be a sign at the gate with details of the app, so you can sign in and see details and even pictures of any risks.

“Apps can be useful but it’s important to use them properly, as part of a wider health and safety programme. You can’t just get an app and think that’s your health and safety sorted.”

She says that as risks on-farm can change very quickly, she also always likes to meet the farmer as well.

“At certain times of the year, farmers may need to tell us if there are bulls in paddocks with the cows. There may be earthworks in certain areas, we need to keep away from, or to be made aware if there are any hazards in the laneways and places we shouldn’t be driving,” she said.

“I think the key to effective health and safety on farms is to keep it simple. I recently attended a seminar Al McCone (sector lead agriculture for WorkSafe) ran for the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management. It was really interesting. Good health and safety on-farm isn’t about doing a lot of paperwork. You don’t need to. It’s about having all the basics covered and communicating well.”

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