Opinion: We all need a break from farming to be fit for challenges

One of the best outcomes from lockdown was that I went for nearly two years without a single illness – not even a cold.

Unfortunately, my lucky spell came to an end last week.

I had always thought that shingles was just an itchy rash that very old people got on their tummies.

Not so. It turns out that if someone gets really stressed – say, for example, because their wage bill has doubled and they are halfway through building an expensive new factory during a once-in-a-lifetime inflation crisis – they can actually get it in their eye, ear and head, even though I, sorry, “they”, are still only in their 40s.

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About the author

Matthew Naylor
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Matt Naylor is managing director of Naylor Flowers, growing 300ha of cut flowers in Lincolnshire for supermarkets. He is a director of Concordia, a charity that operates the Seasonal Worker Scheme, and was one of the founders of Agrespect, an initiative to drive equality, diversity and inclusion in agriculture.
Read more articles by Matthew Naylor

The recent challenges at work have clearly taken their toll on my immune system and created a market opportunity for the virus.

At the time of writing, just two weeks before we are due to start filming the next TV advert for M&S on the farm, I have a face resembling John Merrick, the Elephant Man.

I hope that the swelling and rash have subsided before the cameras arrive because the grotesque image that greets me in the mirror each morning is less likely to drive the sales of British flowers than it is to send hordes of screaming viewers into hiding behind their sofas.

It reminds me of a Land Rover Discovery I once owned.

It was quite wimpy for a four-wheel drive and, if it felt that it had been over-exerted, it would go into “limp mode” for a few days.

This was a form of mechanical sulk whereby the vehicle would refuse to go above 40mph or a couple of thousand rpm unless I took it to a Land Rover dealership for lavish pampering.

I think this is what my body has done.

My brain switched to a restricted performance setting and is refusing to take on any more challenges for a few days.

This is a reminder to me, and I hope to readers too, of the need for routine breaks away from work and stress – something that I have been neglecting recently.

When you are self-employed, it is important to take care of your physical and mental health.

This is especially true when others – be it family, colleagues or livestock – depend upon you.

Clearly it is easier said than done, and I know it is a challenge that a lot of farmers grapple with.

How do we juggle the conflicting aims of leading a simple, balanced life with playing our part in such a complex and inter-connected world?

In the quarter of a century that I have supplied horticultural products to supermarkets, I have never known the challenges to be more complicated, the trading environment more competitive, or for global markets to be more volatile.

As the number of growers continues to shrink, the pressures upon those that remain increases.

Most of the people I know who work in the fresh produce industry operate in a perpetual state of high anxiety, and there is an added complication for those of us still trying to espouse traditional farming values in a world that it is increasingly corporate.

Although everyone in agriculture is rightly concerned about the huge issues we face with soil, water, climate and the availability of crop inputs, we must remember that, above all these, our greatest capital is own health and wellbeing.

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