Farmer Focus: January is a time to look ahead to the next season

It’s 34C, there’s not a cloud in the sky, the water’s like a mirror and I’m standing on the beach working. Well, sort of.

January is when farmers in Western Australia take a break and flock to the ocean; to lie on the beach for a well-earned break and to reflect on the past year and think about the one to come. It’s also one of the largest concentrations of farmers for the year.

Farmers being farmers tend to talk about one thing when in groups and, yes, that’s farming. There are evenings when it’s still 30C-plus at 6pm, the kids are in the water, there’s a stubby in the hand, the sun’s starting to go down and eight blokes are fully engaged in the merits of controlled traffic farming, chemical rates, machinery purchases and harvest yields. It’s one of the best conferences of the year in one of the best venues.

In the very relaxed atmosphere of the location and the lubricating effect of the malted barley, it’s also the one time of the year where blokes talk about the things they never talk about: themselves and how they’re coping. Nothing is taboo; farm succession, stress, marriage problems and the kids. With the only interruption the occasional run into the water to rescue one of the kids.

Farming as an occupation can be very isolating, where unlike working in an office where you have the opportunity to talk with others outside your social circle. In farming that may only happen once or twice a year, while not the intention of going on holiday, it’s an important side effect.

With the declining numbers of people in rural communities and the clamping down by police on having a few drinks at the local and driving home, the chance for farmers and particularly younger farmers to let off some steam and talk to their peers is diminishing. I fear this will have even further negative effect on the mental health of farmers.

Looks like the only thing to do is to spend more time at the beach and less time working on the farm. Problem solved.

Rob Warburton farms 3,000ha with his wife Jen and two daughters in Kojonup, below Perth, in Western Australia. Cropping includes wheat, barley and oilseed rape. Wildflower seed is grown for retail. Merino sheep are reared for wool and meat.

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