Making wellbeing a priority

Making wellbeing a priority

26 July 2020

More than 18,000 Kiwi farmers and their families were involved in nationwide, rural wellbeing programme Farmstrong last year. Here’s why.

Farmstrong helps farmers and their families cope with the ups and downs of farming by sharing things farmers can do to look after themselves and the people in their business.

It offers practical tools and resources on topics such as managing stress, sleeping and eating well and keeping ‘farm fit’ through its website – www.farmstrong.co.nz – and at workshops and community events.

Farmstrong encourages farmers to make small, regular investments into their ‘wellbeing account’ so they have something to ‘draw on’ when times are tough. Habits such as staying in touch with mates, having breaks, keeping active and getting quality sleep improve our wellbeing so we can perform at our best.

Farmstrong ambassador Sam Whitelock grew up on a farm and knows that while farmers are great at looking after their stock and pasture, they aren’t as good at looking after themselves.

“It’s awesome hearing about the number of people that Farmstrong is touching, and I know there are many more people out there we can help.”

In recent years, a number of dairy farmers have championed Farmstrong and started sharing how they deal with the pressures of the job.

Marc Gascoigne runs a successful 150-hectare (ha), 450 cow, family dairy farm just south of Cambridge. The farm’s production rates and results have been impressive enough to feature in industry case studies, but a few years back he experienced ‘burn out’. He’s since made it his mission to share what he learnt, speaking at events on behalf of Farmstrong.

“My message to farmers is that while some stress is normal, when it becomes overwhelming, you’ve got to do something about it. Don’t wait for years and years and suffer like I did,” Marc says.

“The main thing I’ve learnt is that before you can look after your family, your farm and your animals, you’ve got to look after yourself. I discovered the best thing I can do is pull on the running shoes and go for a run. It clears my head and burns off stress.”

Southland contract milker Tangaroa Walker is also a Farmstrong fan.

“It’s funny isn’t it? We do farming courses, but nowhere do we learn about how to look after ourselves, how to eat properly, or how to call a friend if you’re in a stressful situation. That’s why I think Farmstrong’s the best thing since sliced bacon.”

Encouraging farmers to build rest and recovery time into their busy work schedules is a key aspect of the programme.

Kane Brisco, a 50/50 sharemilker at Ohangai, Taranaki, explains: “As much as I love farming and spending time with my family, I also need my own time – even if it’s just 30 minutes a day. It's just about getting out and doing something you like.”

Mark Meyer, who milks 400 cows on a 190-ha dairy farm in the Kaipara region, shares that view. “There’s no doubt in farming that, in theory, you could work all day every day. But how many people do you hear on their deathbeds say, ‘I wish I’d worked another day’? You've simply got to make the time to get off farm and refresh yourself to keep well physically and mentally.”

Farmstrong’s catch call is ‘live well to farm’, highlighting the link between wellbeing and better performance on-farm.

For Angela Reed, a dairy farmer from Waikirikiri Farm Canterbury, focusing on the wellbeing of her team over the years has definitely strengthened their business.

“Everyone talks about production and profitability, but sometimes we forget to mention the importance of a team that is engaged and performs at the top of their game. If people’s lives have balance and they’ve done something they’re passionate about in the weekends, they come back to work with renewed energy for learning and doing a great job.”

Amber Carpenter and her husband Fraser are equally clear about the business benefits of investing in wellbeing. They milk 550 cows in Paparimu, south of Auckland, and won Auckland Hauraki Share Farmer of the Year in 2017.

“It’s about finding what works best for you. It might be exercise, a hobby or a better roster. No one gets it right all the time, but if the intention’s there, you’re more likely to have a good day. But you need to put yourself first. That self-awareness is something I’ve developed over a long period of time. That it’s ok to make your wellbeing a priority.”

Article supplied by Farm Strong