Have we dropped the ball with human performance in the rural industry.

Three different articles in three different publications caught my eye on Monday. Only one is connected to farming in any way but all are very relevant to the sustainability of farming. They all had one common factor; they are all about human performance.

I have been an advocate of farmer’s health and fitness for some time and recently completed a Kellogg rural leadership project on the subject.  From this I, along with some keen people, have started a campaign called Fit 4 Farming.  Fit 4 Farming is all about ensuring our rural people are physically and mentally able to cope and flourish with life in modern rural New Zealand.

My belief is that the general farming population, rightly or wrongly, is heading away from physical work and more into office/computer work and anything with wheels and a noise. This has multiple cause and effects, on one side farmers will have less stress on their joints so arguably will be more active in older age, they should also have more energy to do more on the farm however the reality is by doing less farmers are at risk of actually becoming less active, eating less healthy and are at risk of cardiovascular disease therefore shortening their lifespan in an industry where we drastically need them to remain. We are so intent to concern ourselves with pay rates and hours worked that we have forgotten how important productive time is including having enough productive rest.

The first of the articles this week that caught my eye was from the Farmers Weekly. A small article titled Fagan honoured. David Fagan is a shearing phenomenon and more should have followed his lead but he was so far ahead of everyone else he became some sort of mythological creature churning out win after win over 35 years of competition. Why was he so good for so long– because he trained, he ran, he got fitter, and he ate like an athlete. How much more productive could New Zealand Primary industry be now if farmers had followed his lead 15-20 years ago.

The second article was in the NZ Herald and it looked at the effects of stress and sleep deprivation on sailors during the Volvo Ocean Race. A race against time-and stress could have and should have been about farmers not yachties. Has the Primary industry has dropped the ball with this one.  I do wonder why some of the millions of dollars floating around the industry for R&D has not been corralled into researching the physical requirements of farmers and the effects of stress and sleep deprivation in farming. It makes you wonder how interested the industry really is in improving farmer wellbeing. The first step in making a change is to first measure what needs to change.

The third and final article was written by a life coach Louise Thompson and features in the herald supplement BITE. Things naturally fit people do differently very simply lists six things that Louise has identified now she is naturally fit.  When I read through the six ‘secrets,’ I wondered how many farmers fall into the category of being naturally fit.

  1. They do it for the feeling of doing it not just the result of doing it. They run because it feels good.
  2. Exercise is about much more than weight loss.
  3. They respect their body for what it can do.
  4. Naturally fit people talk about exercise like it’s a supportive friend
  5. They fit it into their day no matter what.
  6. They make it work

Last weekend saw the 2nd running of the Surf 2 Firth bush marathon. This is one tough demanding event, which sucks the life out of the competitors. Not unusually, many finishers remarked they wished they had trained harder. In all my dealings with farmers whether coaching or consulting, no farmer has ever said “I wish I had trained harder for calving” or “I wish I had done more fitness before lambing” however they are quick to mention how much weight they have lost over the peak period. Here is a wake up call – losing excess weight during an endurance event means you will be under performing.

In the lead up to the National fieldays you will be hearing more about Fit 4 Farming and our exciting vision to make New Zealand the fittest farming nation in the world.  FMG, Mental Health Foundation, Toyota NZ, CB Norwood and Beef & Lamb NZ have already committed to helping this initiative to ensure it is a success.

So when you are feeling tired during the day have a think about whether you are mentally tired or physically tired. I would say it is the former and if it is take a lead from David Fagan and train your body to stay on top.

About Ian Handcock

Founder Fit 4 Farming initiative Promoting Farmer wellbeing. Performance coach.
This entry was posted in Farmer Wellness, Farming, Inspiration, Motivaton and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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