Drought remains the single most important determinant of yields, and mental well being, and on the East Coast of NZ, Hawke's Bay in particular, farmers have just endured one of the most severe droughts in living memory, and while it was fresh in their minds, we spoke with four top performing farmers who came through the drought in better shape than the vast majority. Note that while Aussie farmers may call it "a bit of a dry" by their standards, we were interested in how they dealt with the extreme circumstances they faced by comparison to their norm.

Done in conjunction with AgFirst Consultants, we wanted to understand how they came through in a better mental and financial position, and why they were in a position to return their farm to BAU more readily. We identified four standouts, went to their farms and drank lots of coffee. Essentially five odd hours of interviews honed in on three things:

Each of these farmers had a plan

These farmers are very clear that they are in business and engage in detailed annual planning rounds. They develop a well thought out plan giving them foresight and certainty. They know where they are headed, why and what it takes to get there. The plan looks at the immediate and to the horizon, is very goal oriented and detailed. Each agreed that most farmers do not have a plan (like many business men).

They actively manage against the plan

In good and bad they work their plan and in a drought situation they manage the plan to a more minutely. They measure much more closely, and are vigorous in developing scenarios and predicting outcomes, giving them the ability to make decisions. And these decisions they make early, ahead of the curve and admit to being decisive to prevent them from becoming a victim of circumstance. The use of technology is evident in modeling and scenario development, particularly in pasture management.

Again they note that many farmers that do have plans don’t have the tools to progressively and accurately measure their way through. Farmax was used by all farmers to monitor pasture cover.

They are highly collaborative

No person is an island and developing and managing their plan, they include:

  • Off farm expertise – realising they need help to achieve their goals, they view effective partnership and advice as an enabler, not a cost on the business
  • Wives, staff and staff partners.

Most farmers struggle alone, with pride being the main reason cited as the reason farmers can’t ask for help. Each farmer we spoke with reached out and tried to help others in their district who were not coping as well.

These key factors combined give them these farmers one thing:

Margin, so they can sleep at night.

They have the confidence to be decisive, to be the masters of their own destiny rather than thinking… I’m only one rain away – they don’t live in hope. And modelling gave them options based on likely outcomes so whilst they knew they’d take a hit, they also knew how big and that they could live with it.

Whilst the outcome of this study seems almost too simple, the effectiveness of these strategies when explained (each in their own way), was incredibly striking. These farmers were smart and had a real sense of direction; they had a plan, they worked the plan, they used expertise to back fill their own deficits (and we all have them).

“Resilience” is misinterpreted. It’s less about mental toughness and more about effective strategies to build margin through planning and collaboration. It’s peace of mind that builds resilience. Most, if not all farmers can have this if they would employ these simple principles.

Bottom line is… there’s no such thing as a resilient farming community, instead we have a group of resilient individuals who combine to make communities resilient.

Tracta | Champions of Agribusiness - Rural Specialist

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