Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Fighting fit on the farm

Kairanga dairy farmer and multi-sport enthusiast Mark Olsen is passionate about the positive effects exercise can have on a rural lifestyle. Charlie Williamson caught up with him to talk about his farming operation and the part sport has played in ensuring he enjoys what he does.

There’s a backwards culture in rural New Zealand with farmers thinking that looking after their animals and farm takes priority over themselves. 

Farmers are undeniably the most important asset on a farm so when their own health and wellbeing are not taken care of it can quickly translate into a dysfunctional farming operation.

Manawatu farmer Mark Olsen is passionate about exercising regularly and believes it should be a non-negotiable part of every farmer’s day. 

Since he introduced exercise into his routine not only has his overall wellbeing improved but the day-to-day running of his farm as a result of clearer decision-making and increased motivation is also better. 

“When you’re not having time off you’re not getting that outlet from your day-to-day work. For me it just had to become a non-negotiable if I wanted to see an improvement in my physical and mental health,” Mark says.

“It makes me a better farmer and it probably makes me a better person so it makes sense to continue with it.”

Mark milks 250 cows on 94 hectares just out of Kairanga, 10 minutes from Palmerston North. 

He has always had a strong farming background, having grown up on a farm in southern Manawatu. 

From an early age he developed passions for sport and farming. He studied for a sports and marketing degree at Massey University but later decided that wasn’t the career he wanted. 

“I wasn’t too interested in doing a career in sports or marketing so in 2005 I went and did my OE for two and a half years through England and Ireland. I ended up playing rugby in Ireland and working three summers on a large cropping farm in England. 

“It was there that I thought this farming gig’s not too bad so in the space of those summers I thought I’d come home and give farming a crack so that brought me back to dairy farming.

“It was just a case of how I can apply my business brain and progress this farming career as quickly as possible.”

So in 2007 returned to Manawatu where he took the first steps in what was soon to be a rewarding dairy farming career. 

Physical health issues such as back problems, respiratory issues and farm-related injuries have been reported as leading factors in causing mental health problems. Therefore a farmer who focuses on keeping active is looking after his overall wellbeing.

“We look after our cows and our grass and put that first above ourselves but that method is really backwards. You’ve got to look after yourself so you can look after your cows and grass to that higher standard.

“It all just seems like common sense to me but I’d like to see more farmers have that mindset.”

Throughout his journey to self-improvement his partner Johanna Smith has been fully supportive. She has noticed improvement in the entire farming operation as well as his overall wellbeing. 

Johanna works as a territory manager for Seed Force and has a strong background in agriculture. She often helps him out on the farm so she has a very good understanding of how he is doing day-to-day. 

Mark says that though it was challenging getting to his current fitness level, enlisting a fitness coach helped speed up the process. 

“It’s not hard to get into it even just starting by going for a walk and progressing to running if that’s where your fitness level is.

“Certainly, when you’re trying to achieve those bigger goals having a coach will shorten the process from starting out to reaching your end goal. 

“I enlisted the help of a coach and I aim to follow his programme to the best I can. He understands my career so he just tailored a programme to suit.”

Another advantage of having a coach is there is an increase in motivation there when someone is constantly pushing you to do better. Given how frantic a farmer’s schedule can be it’s certainly worth having that extra drive to achieve your goals. 

However, he is plenty motivated to achieve his goals and says it has become a vital part of his day that cannot be pushed aside. 

“A common thing is people saying they don’t have the time and energy for it. But the thing with exercise is that it gives you energy.

“So from just making that exercise a non-negotiable part of your daily routine you actually find yourself having more energy.

“I now find to the extent that if I don’t exercise daily my body doesn’t function as well.”

He believes the primary sector is in desperate need of a culture change when talking about health and wellbeing. He wants to see improvement and for famers to take it much more seriously. 

“Everyone is talking about having a sustainable approach to farming but they’re not incorporating themselves into that overall picture of sustainability.”

Farm facts:

Owners: Mark Olsen 

Location: Kairanga, Manawatu. 

Size: 94ha effective

Cows: 250

Production 2018-19: 100,000kg MS

Target 2019-20: 105,000kg MS

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