Opinion: Time to look on the bright side of life

I keep an old article written by a New Zealand farm consultant by the side of my desk. Nuggets of wisdom to remember when things aren’t going well.

I refer to it from time to time – when I am feeling low, or sometimes just to make sure my compass is pointing in the right direction.

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It is full of sage advice, too much to quote. Little gems like CFIMITYM – “cashflow is more important than your mother”. Or “most people are emotionally better at buying than selling. Learn to spread risk”.

I can attest to that last one. Arable farmers love to brag about driving a particularly hard bargain when acquiring an exorbitantly expensive combine, yet not many have mastered the art of hedging their grain sales. Besides, we could probably all learn a thing or two from the chap who sold a Texel ram for a gazillion guineas a couple of weeks ago…

However, a particular titbit of wise counsel caught my eye on a recent re-read. It was a soggy day in August when the combine was stopped mid-thrash and, yes, I was feeling a bit down. The passage read: “The optimist is wrong as often as the pessimist, but recovers much quicker in a downcycle.”

I sat a little more upright and made a stern note to myself to heed his words.

Lying awake at three in the morning worrying about plummeting hagbergs or pitiful yields doesn’t help anyone, least of all one’s productivity and mood the next morning. Besides, counting sheep as an antidote to insomnia seems a bit ridiculous for an arable farmer.

But in September 2020 one could be excused for thinking an optimistic disposition is inappropriate. We are surrounded by a tide of negativity in the press, on the TV and social media about the economic and social outlook from coronavirus. And that is beyond farming’s own mire of a rubbish season and the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Apparently, the current trend for farming programmes on TV suggest 95% of Brits want to buy a house in the Yorkshire Dales, become a shepherdess and immerse themselves in farming’s “heart-warming” way of life.

I would advocate that, to be optimistic, we need the reverse – time away, not just from the farm, but also from other farmers, farming media and also ourselves.

Pub gardens are full of tales of blocked combine rotors and sprouting ears. Twitter is rife with tweets of woe. And even the broadsheets are talking of a harvest from hell. Stand close to people who are radiators, not drains.

Looking after one’s wellbeing is not necessarily sitting in a clearing in a remote wood practicing yoga (although that would, I am sure, be excellent). It is finding your equilibrium of physical and mental health.

The NHS sets out five key steps to mental wellbeing: connecting with other people, being physically active, learning new skills, giving to others and being present in the moment. All of these can release endorphins that promote optimism.

We should celebrate how well-placed we are to achieve these five things. Our industry is a community, always willing to help one another; much of our work is active and outdoors; each year is different, we are always learning; and through farming landscapes and habitats we are constantly giving to society.

I am working on the last one – being more present and finding time for mindfulness. Being more optimistic will certainly help.

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