If farming was easy, everyone would do it

The lawyers, policy makers, vets, accountants, artists and movie makers, regulators and inspectors – in fact everyone that is NOT a farmer is able to do what they do – because of farmers.

Those who choose not to grow their own food – in our developed society that is about 98% of people – can do so because they have delegated that responsibility to people who are better at it than they are. They have delegated the hunting and gathering to those who have fine tuned skills to turn sunshine into grass and thence into milk/protein/grain/meat. A farm is the ultimate solar factory converting solar energy into foodstuffs that can be processed and transported around the globe.

Farmers in New Zealand sometimes do not recognise the skills they have. They are reluctant to sing their own praises.

I spent some time in a policy forum regarding environmental matters. People who had huge influence on policy regarding the Ag sector had NO idea the passion and skills that went into producing the food they took for granted.

Farmers have been demonised in media circles as uncaring and unchanging individuals who have disregard for the people, land, animals in their care. I am probably preaching to the converted in this space – but for those new to here – farmers do care. They take more care to look after animals and land than they often do to look after themselves.

Farmers do not excel at recording the good things that they do – although we are getting better. Health and Safety has been a constant presence of every farmer. Knowing they need to do something but not quite sure where to start. They do things that they call common sense – they don’t record it.

After over 20 years in the production of world best food products I was subjected to the highest scrutiny with audits from teams around the planet, both from international governments and multinational customers. One thing that made a difference in our success was the three simple steps:

- Say what you are going to do

- Do what you say you are going to do

- Show that you have done it

I honestly think the same approach can be used by farmers regarding their Health and Safety practices. Worksafe have fantastic free resources available – we link to some of them here.

In 2013 there were 220,000 lost hours from accidents in NZ Agriculture. With some cunning maths that works out to be over 950 full time people. Imagine if we could halve that – if we could add another 450 people to the pool of employable people when recruiting.

We want to show the non-farmers that farmers are doing great things. One of our personal frustrations was the systems that were available for Health and Safety for my husband. He is a technophobe who used the excuse that it was too hard, paperwork not where I am, can’t find the last report, no one looks at it anyway. He doesn’t want to sit on a computer for hours working his way through various options. He is literally in the field – he is in the best place to make changes to behaviour that will make a difference. So we set up Orange Cross.

We had the opportunity to make a difference to how farmers record their compliance around Health and Safety. We have done so with the understanding that farmers already do much – they just found it hard or expensive to prove it. So we made lots of the parts of our system free to those introduced to it by a peer. We made it simple.

We still recommend the resources that are available at www.saferfarms.org.nz

Farmers often get taken for granted – we are a society that has secure food and, in New Zealand, a very safe food source. Farmers need to look after themselves as well as they do the animals they tend.

On every emergency plan that is generated in Orange Cross there are five numbers that cannot be altered. Because no matter what greatness farmers hold, how talented they are and how many honours they get. The biggest killer of farmers is farmers.

· Emergency response number

· Poison Centre

· Worksafe

· Rural Support Trust

· Lifeline

Farming is a long game. It is a job that requires passion and tolerance, fortitude and flexibility. It is an honourable profession. We in the rural sector need to stand up for that honour and celebrate the fact that we feed our critics.

We can do better at many things – and one of them is in acknowledging our own skills.

Those non-farmers are farmers because we are.

We need to remind them of that.

Megan Owen and her husband Jason Ham started Orange Cross after being frustrated with systems that were not designed for people who were working in the field. They are going to be at the innovation tent at National Fieldays in June. They are involved in their local school and squash club when not tending the 500 cow sharemilking business.