Saturday, 3 September 2011

Farmer Mentoring...If You Want to Fly with the Eagles, Dont Mess around with the Turkeys!

I’ve just been re reading “Manhood” by Steve Biddulph. Every man & every Dad should read it.

"It’s a book that can have a profound influence on the reader be it man or woman. I started to think of the influence that some very special individual older men have had on my own career & life. On reflection I doubt that many if any, of these men realise what influence their “positivity” has had on me as a father, a life partner, as a pasture based dairy consultant & as a man working in agriculture. The true impact of being my mentor has been profound & so important to the attitudes I have not only about agriculture but about life it self.
I am very lucky..... I had what I thought was an idyllic childhood & a really positive relationship (but not fantasy land perfect) with my father & as a child all I wanted to be was to be like him….a farmer! As a young teenager my parents encouraged me to go onto University but never actually forcing me into agriculture. I think my Dad at one stage tried to talk me out of farming, this only served to make me reconsider, then to think about what I really wanted to do in agriculture & in dairying specifically. (My Dad was not a dairy farmer)"
However my thoughts today have been about the individual older men who I was to meet as a young man over the next 20-30yrs who were to have a profound influence on my thinking & my career.
Who were these men? They were not superman but some of them were outstanding in their professions or their words of wisdom were indelibly written into my head…they changed how I viewed my world, they sent me off asking questions or they simply set an outstanding example that I not only wanted to match but I decided I could do better.
Some of them have been (& continue to be) dairy farmers.....they drew me into the dairy industry
There was admiration & most importantly trust.
They willingly gave of their time.
They thought clearly & decisively they spoke abruptly & to the point.
They sent me looking in new directions & asking Why not?
They gave me an "I can do" ATTITUDE 
I owe them my MENTORS a great deal.
“It takes many men to turn a boy into a man” Steve Biddulph.
If we look back into history, in nomadic peoples all of the men cared for all of the boys & young men collectively. In years not so long ago when most farming families depended heavily on the labour provided by the family & families were large…skills were learnt off Dad & Granddad, they were passed from eldest to youngest. Rural people often lived either near to or in the villages where they were either related to or well known to just about everyone.
Today farming has become an isolated profession. But for the pasture based dairy farming community to create a socially sustainable society (especially for our talented young people both male & female) we need to create an environment where Mentors thrive!
Probably the best known international mentoring system is “Big Brothers Big Sisters”. BBBS aims to help young people make positive decisions about their life choices. There are few examples in agriculture if any.
We need to start with our farming Dads. Being a parent is an incredibly challenging task. Being a Dad on a pasture based dairy farm has huge responsibilities. If you genuinely are happy in your job you will want to convey that enthusiasm & sense of fun to your children. Your children mainly want you as a Dad…..they want your time. They are going to take a dim view of absent Dads & Dads who can’t come to the sports day or can’t come away on holidays. They will have different attitudes to life from you….are you surprised….they were born into different times.
If farming doesn’t turn them on they will leave & who can blame them. Forcing them straight home from school might scar them for life.
Encouraging them into education & travel might give them wings to fly.
For goodness sake let’s not be negative about farming we have a lot we can be very positive about in pasture based dairying & we can do even more to create bright futures for our young people. Lets attract the most talented young women into agriculture too!
In Australia I ran & organised the Large Herds Conference…I would seek out the farmers at the top of their game to be speakers. After nine years a NZ farmer speaker pointed out to me that he was the 8th speaker to be mentored by one particular older farmer at Te Puke. Amazing that one individual had positively influenced so many high profile & successful farmers.
Testimony to the important power of great individual Farming Mentors.
If you are a Pasture based Dairy Farm Employer you have huge responsibilities regarding the young people you work with on your farm. Especially if your farm is the first farm job they have ever had or the first job after university or college. This could be a make or break relationship. I’m not too worried about you. I’m more concerned about losing another talented young person from pasture based dairying.
Some of my mentors were not family nor were they employers. In hindsight we somehow bumped into each other or our pathways crossed. I think what I’m really saying is that you never quite know when you might be a mentor or that some comments you make might have a much more profound influence than you meant at the time.
There’s a saying in radio….”You’re never alone with a microphone” the same is true of mentoring in agriculture.
Mentoring is Serious Men’s & Women’s business.
My advice to the talented young people entering our industry… “C’mon on down we need you!” You need to seek out the very best people in the industry & make sure you work with the very best people. You need to keep asking questions, join a top discussion group & mix with the best. You need to aim to be the best. You need to be in the top 5% in whatever you chose to do in agriculture. You can’t afford to be average. In 5 years time the average won’t still be farming. You need to find your heart in agriculture & love your chosen profession. Mix with positive people who will advance your career in the positive sector of UK Dairying!
“If you want to Fly with the Eagles don’t mess around with the Turkeys”
Current UK Pasture Measurements
There are two worlds in the land of grass....serious struggle in some counties. Heavy feeding & high risk of not meeting 1st Week in October Targets.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
South Ayrshire, Scotland, AFC 2208kgs DM/ha, Pasture growth 22kgs DM/ha/day
Cumbria, AFC 2500, growth 54
Shropshire, 1562, gr 9 over 3weeks, demand 10, feeding 12kgDM, rotation 45days
Nottingham, 1870, gr 15, de 70, heavily feeding including winter forage????? Serious!
Staffordshire, Now green some growth still feeding alot
Herefordshire, 2170, gr 31, de 27, v Dry need rain feeding half demand
Hereford org 1900, gr 20, de 25 supplements 30kgs DM/ha V Dry will miss Oct Targets
Oxfordshire, 2150, gr 60, de 25 had some rain, seen 3 leaves 1st time for months
Hampshire, AFC 2730, growth 103, feeding covers of 3700, plenty of silage
Dorset, 2880, gr 46, lots clover rust in older leys, about to apply salt to pastures
Sussex organic, 1300, really struggling growth zero, silage clamp wide open
Brittany, France growth 48kgs struggling to control residuals VG summer after dry spring
SW Wales 2450, growth 51 lower than expected
Pembrokeshire organic, AFC 2117, growth 66, demand 30, silage paddocks back in round.

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