Farmer Focus: Simple mistake nearly cost two lives

During November and December we had an unprecedented wet spell with over 300mm of rain here, very little sunshine and certainly no need for irrigation. It was a case of too much of a good thing.

Disease levels have been very high, and while we were chasing septoria in cereals it seems that fusarium may have done more damage.

Peas have had wet feet, clover crops grew leaves and no flowers, and the bees spent two months hiding in the hive looking out of their front door!

See also: Why fusarium risk is rising in wheat and how to manage it

It is with trepidation that we have started the harvest and to my surprise the first 26ha of ryegrass has yielded 2.46t/ha on a clean sample and nice-looking seed. Fingers crossed.

Risky business

However, here at Valetta we have had more cause for thought than the harvest. In November two of our permanent staff were completing a task done many times before, and a very simple mistake, or oversight. 

It was nobody’s fault at all, but had catastrophic consequences and resulted in one of our staff being injured and requiring emergency care.

It was a day on which we could have very easily lost two members of staff, both an integral part of the team here, and both family men.

We were very fortunate, what could have happened didn’t and the injuries were not serious.

This has been an event that has caused us, both as a team of workmates and myself as an employer, to reflect on the event and how in a moment things can change, potentially forever.

How do I, as an employer, manage those risks, those various tasks that we all complete out of routine on a daily basis, and ensure that no one is hurt in the course of operating this business?

How do we all stay engaged in systems that will ensure the health and safety of each of us?

We are grateful that day was not worse. Look after each other, talk about risk, and talk about managing that risk.


David Clark runs a 463ha fully irrigated mixed farm with his wife Jayne at Valetta, on New Zealand’s South Island. He grows 400ha of cereals, pulses, forage and vegetable seed crops, runs 1,000 Romney ewes and finishes 8,000 lambs annually.

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