“If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.”

Albert Einstein’s quote is one of Gemma Adams’ favourites, along with “if you want me to understand something, draw me a picture,” a mantra she used early on in her farming career with husband Terry on their South Taranaki sharemilking job.

Gemma, in her early 30s now, describes herself as a visual learner – something she didn’t understand at school when she wondered why she always struggled with reading and writing in English classes. She wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until later in her life and then it all dropped into place.

“I managed reading, but still miss out small words and I used to dodge reading out loud at school – it was a struggle.”

Where she did excel however was in the arts subjects and made that her career with a graphic design degree from UCOL Wanganui before working for two years in a design studio in Taranaki.

When she and Terry went to a large sharemilking job and she joined him working on the Hawera farm, however, it became difficult for her to follow a long series of verbal instructions, and Gemma started to think there must be a better way.

“Terry would give me a list of what to do verbally – shift the calves here, put up a break there, take the effluent sprayer to somewhere else – and I couldn’t remember all the words and figure it all out.”

That’s when she coined the phrase – “draw me a picture” and became aware that she learns things and relates to everything in pictures.

Using her graphic design skills it made sense to design a board to put in the cowshed with a detailed map of the farm on it that could be drawn on and to use that to understand the jobs for the day.

“Now Terry won’t give me any jobs until I am in front of the board.

“Especially if it’s in spring or the heat of summer, or if I am hungry – seeing it on the board just makes it so much easier.”

The next step was to make boards up for friends and family, who appreciated how much easier it is for staff to understand the workings of a farm is they can see the map and picture what needs to be done.

“We call them vizlink boards – they are a way of visually linking all the jobs that need doing in the different areas of the farm.”

“It’s all just evolved – I didn’t plan to build a business this way, but in my gut it felt like the best way of communicating with people.

“If I struggled, I thought there must be lots of other farm staff out there with the same challenges.

“Being a townie, I was wanting to do my best and be successful on the farm, and this simple but effective resource helped so much, it’s given me the drive to build my business and help other farmers and their staff.”

Terry and Gemma have been on their South Taranaki farm, sharemilking 500 cows for the Hickman family, for eight years now, with two staff members, growing to three in the spring.

They have also invested with family in a 400-cow Pahiatua farm, run for them by a contract milker.

Gemma and Terry have two children, Maddie, 5 and Brock, 2 and Gemma waited until they were old enough to start her company Vizlink 18 months ago. She works out of a cabin in the garden on the farm and has two contract designers and customer service consultant Pauline Corbett in the team. They are positive about the uptake of the tools in the industry.

Most farmers have a whiteboard in their cowshed, Gemma says, some with a farm map on it, but the magic lies in how the map can be overlaid with useful information and graphics to make a complete picture of the farm and make it easy to record farm management information.

“When a farmer comes with his farm map, we can design the vizlink boards off that or can use a drone or GPS map to add more detail in.”

“Then we overlay things like races, water lines and troughs, effluent lines and areas, colour-coded grazing blocks – whatever the farmer wants – and we can add other lists and panels and areas for information and interactions.”

Gemma loves working with farmers and business people and finding out what issues they need to solve and coming up with a solution.

“There is so much potential for the products – I really feel like I am helping people – I am like an open book, I love to pick up snippets of information and share it with others.

“No one goes to work to brass off their boss, but some workers need extra resources to ensure they are able to get the instructions correct and follow through – especially when they are learning.”

The whiteboards can also be turned into maps and pads for use out on the farm – the image of the whiteboard on a pad can be printed onto a farm map for carrying around along with extra lists written on the side, and that page discarded at the end of the day.

Gemma says she uses the maps and pads when out on the farm for recording things and remembering instructions.

“When we first got to this farm we had a huge lameness issue, it was hard to remember where the cows were coming from and which claw it was and where the problems came from – I made pads and maps to record and monitor the problems and solutions, and we have overcome it.”

The resources are also handy for setting up staff to go solo while the boss has a weekend off, Gemma says.

The cost structure includes a mapping-per-hectare cost and depends on the size of the vizlink board, how many paddocks and other panels are included, along with pads and maps. While the map can be imported into an app, there are limitations to the scale and readability on an app, Gemma says. Customised magnets can also be designed and added in.

Eighteen months in, Gemma has a business mentor, a Facebook presence and website and is thrilled with the way the business is building and says the Vizlink products have resonated with other industries as well.

She has had jobs with sheep and beef farmers, a market gardener with multi-crops and garden beds and a power company mapping their lines and boxes.

“There are lots of applications for the resources. Anyone who wants to create a visual picture of their processes can find an application,” Gemma says.

She is particularly passionate about helping young people in the sector, many of whom are visual learners like herself.

“We all work blimmin’ hard. If my vizlink boards and pads can help practically, then that’s what drives me.”