Saturday, December 2, 2023

New book to support kiwifruit growers in tough times

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The kiwifruit industry has teamed up with Farmstrong on a new resource to help growers manage the challenges of the industry.
Live Well, Grow Well ‘couldn’t have come at a better time’, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chair Mark Mayston says. ‘It doesn’t just acknowledge the pressures we deal with, it offers practical solution.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

His year is going to be another bumpy one. On top of the latest adverse weather, growers of Green kiwifruit have been hit by poor returns due to export volume and quality issues from last year’s harvest. 

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers chair Mark Mayston says: “We understand how tough this will be for many growers after an already difficult year. As a grower, I’ve also had my share of highs and lows and completely understand how trying the industry can get. That’s why it’s important to take steps to maintain personal wellbeing, even when times get tough.”

Live Well, Grow Well: Stories from the Kiwifruit Industry tells the stories of experienced growers and industry figures who have navigated tough times before and share what they now do to manage workload and stress. It also contains expert advice on topics such as nutrition, sleep, strategies to manage pressure and the importance of rest and recovery time. 

The book encourages growers to adopt the Five Ways to Wellbeing – connecting with mates, learning new things, keeping active, enjoying simple pleasures and helping friends and community. Research shows these habits are proven to have a cumulative, positive effect on people and increase their resilience. 

Live Well, Grow Well shares stories of industry stalwarts who have weathered hard years before.

One of the growers in the book, Katikati-based Sean Canarchan, has notched up more than 40 years’ experience. He says it’s a great industry, but there are always challenges. 

“When you think things are going swimmingly well, there’s always something around the corner to challenge you. And generally the things that challenge us in this industry are not of our own making. They are normally outside influences.” 

He says adjusting your mindset can really help manage pressure. 

“I always talk about two things: the controllables and the uncontrollables. All the things you can control, you need to have a plan in place to deal with them, but don’t sweat the things you can’t control.  

“The classic example is when it rains and you can’t work and you think ‘I’m going to get further and further behind.’ Yes you are, but it doesn’t matter how much worrying you do, it won’t improve the situation. What you can do is discuss the work programme, prioritise what needs to be done and have a good plan in place so when the weather comes right, you have retained everybody and you can get on with it. That’s critical.” 

Canarchan says part of lasting the distance in the industry is prioritising your wellbeing. His own stress-busters include mountain biking, fishing and catching up with mates. 

“If you can get exercise along with socialising happening on a regular basis, it just gives you that balance and a chance to recharge.  

“I have a group of guys I get together with for a beer once a week and most of them don’t grow kiwifruit. It’s something different. It’s always at the end of the day and a good way to unwind. Socialising with good company is so critical. You want to surround yourself with positive people so you get good vibes off that.  

“All in all, it’s been a really challenging 12 months. They say what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, but by jeez – we’re really pushing the boundaries at the moment with grower welfare. That’s why I like what Farmstrong is on about.” 

Another industry stalwart, Marty Robinson, shares the lessons he learnt from a tough period of “burnout” some years back. Robinson currently manages 16ha of kiwifruit, is involved in developing the Baygold group and runs his own farm. He’s also involved in the not-for-profit Daily Cafe in Te Puke. 

“I was a capable person who could turn his hand to most things, but what started out as an asset eventually became a burden. I was going at things hammer and tongs, doing six or seven things at once. I ended up burnt out in a major way. 

“It was a hard lesson. I had to learn to say ‘no’, step back and pass things over to others. I was lucky I had great support from my wife, family and team.” 

Not surprisingly, Robinson is a good source of advice for growers feeling stressed. 

“Even when things happen that are outside your control, there are still things you can control to ease pressure. For instance, get away from your phone, just use it for a set period every day. Turn off your notifications and get off social media. 

“Prioritise your workload too, especially if you’re short of help. There’s no point stressing about orchard work you can’t realistically get to. Write a list of what you can do and reschedule other things until after harvest. You’ll feel more in control.” 

These days Robinson is proactive about managing the challenges of the industry. 

“To a certain extent, we all have to grin and bear things, but if you’re really feeling under the pump, don’t be afraid to step out, leave the phone at home and do something different for a day.  

“I love the industry, but I was the classic example of someone overdoing it. I learnt a hard lesson. Once you let yourself get too far down that hole, it’s a long way back. I had to prioritise what really matters in life – my health, my family and then my income. Once you’ve got things in balance, you’ll be all right no matter what’s happening in the industry.” 

Farmstrong Ambassador and rugby great Sam Whitelock also features in the book. He comes from a farming background and studied horticulture at university. 

“The kiwifruit industry is an exciting industry but I know from talking with growers that it has its fair share of pressures too. There are always the things that you can’t control, such as prices or the weather, which can make life stressful. But when you work on a farm or orchard, you have to prioritise your wellbeing and make it happen yourself. There are steps you can take to relieve stress and pressure if you’re feeling  under the pump,” Whitelock says.

“Different things work for different people, so this book is a chance to check out what other growers are doing so you can ‘lock in’ what works for you.  

“I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact that being Farmstrong has on people. Last year, 15,000 farmers increased their wellbeing thanks to Farmstrong. If you’re doing it tough, this is a very handy resource to add to your toolkit.”

Growers’ chair Mayston agrees. “This book couldn’t come at a better time. The great thing about it is that it doesn’t just acknowledge the pressures we deal with, it offers practical solutions. It shows there’s always a way through these challenges if we look after ourselves and each other.”

MORE: Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and growers live well to farm well. To find out what else could work for you and lock it in, visit Live Well, Grow Well is being distributed free to growers at the Kiwifruit Growers’ harvest roadshows. 

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