I let you see the parts of me that weren’t that pretty. (Pink, 2012)
I could take great photos and talk to you about the parts of farming that are sexy and beautiful. Because so much of what we do is sexy, beautiful, and very real – raising content and healthy animals, beautiful streams and forests, sunrises and sunsets, and kids growing up connected to the land and how their food is produced.
But I can’t do that, because that would be a bit…. bullshit. We can’t just focus on what’s so great about farming without acknowledging what’s not.
So what’s not amazing at the moment on farm?
We are currently in a drought. It’s the tale end of drought – we had some nice showers yesterday, and the forecast is for more to come. This will be some much needed moisture to get the pasture growing again, before the soil becomes too cold, and growth will once again slow, then stop.
But right now it sucks. It sucks because
a) The grass stopped growing months ago. And what had grown quickly sizzled up in the heat. Buying in feed – whether hay or silage or grain from other farms is always an option, but quickly becomes unprofitable. Selling as much as possible is also an option – but it’s you phoning the stock agent along with everyone else.
b) Water. Streams, damns and aquifers that farmers pump water out of to fill up their water troughs have dried up. Not all farms, some farms have excellent water supply. But water is perhaps that hardest part about being in a drought. For us, our infrastructure (the water system of pipes that takes water around our farm) is old and needing a significant investment (just like lots of our local government Councils!), and in the heat of the summer, it’s pulling apart at joins, it’s cracking and breaking. When you hear of a farmer talking about ‘chasing water’ – this is what they are fixing. Once you are losing water from a broken pipe, it becomes a domino effect to try and get the system up and running again.
I think this is a great example of why moving agricultural farms to horticultural farms is not simple, nor effective (on top of soil and contour issues). An avocado tree requires more 6 x more water a day than a sheep does.
c) Its stressful. Our strategy here has been to consistently make decisions about what we can do to reduce the impact on our animals, our business, and ourselves. What we didn’t realise until just recently was that we hadn’t done enough to reduce the impact on our family. Like many family businesses, the conversations around work don’t always start at 8am and end at 5pm, and we have become much more aware that we need to draw a line and stop talking about work, particularly the stressful parts, and focus on our kids and each other.
Funnily enough, our bank balance is healthy during a drought – we’ve sold more lambs and cattle than we would normally in a non-drought year, and we haven’t bought any more animals in return. Where the financial impacts of a drought hit hard is in the coming months – having less stock numbers on, trying to restock our farms when the market is climbing, and prices are high. That’s why farmers get frustrated when the government announces relief packages to drought affected regions, and people think its some kind of handout. Its not – for the most part, it gets some funding to non-profits such as the Rural Support Trust, so that they can get support and counselling to farmers that are struggling – help them make decisions and sometimes, to stop them topping themselves. So I always wish the ‘why should farmers get a handout’ guys would shut. the. hell. up.
The biggest opportunity during an adverse event such as a drought is to reflect on the experience, and think about what we can do to make us more resilient going forward. Dan and I are pleased with some of the early decisions we made, and feel that we are pretty pragmatic and resilient to the stresses of adverse events like this, but we recognise that we need some major investment in our water infrastructure – more dams to collect the excess water in wet winters, a new system to distribute water around our farm.
Its started raining again while I’ve been writing this. So I guess I’ll have some sexy, beautiful farming photos to post again shortly 🙂