Still got a lot to learn

Mark Guscott extols the virtues of farm discussion groups, like the one he’s a member of in Wairarapa.

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Ben Guscott back in 2014 is now 11 years old.

Mark Guscott extols the virtues of farm discussion groups, like the one he’s a member of in Wairarapa.

I THINK I’VE GOT OLD. IT SNUCK UP without me noticing, but maybe that’s because I refuse to give in to wearing reading glasses, and I’m a bit hard of hearing in a noisy room.

Susannah and I started farming on our own account when I was 26 years young – that’s nearly 18 years ago. We hosted my farm business group on the farm last week for their once-in-five-year visit and it occurred to me that my oldest child is now 16. That’s only 10 years away from being 26, which is when I started.

It doesn’t feel that long ago and I still feel I’ve got a lot to learn. Maybe I should hurry up and pay off some debt to make succession a bit easier for my own kids.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about succession at this meeting; maybe that’ll be on the agenda for the next visit in five years. The business group is a good mix of 25 high-quality sheep and beef and dairy farmers with a few other sidelines such as forestry, ram breeding, sheep milking and tourism, and it’s a chance to have top-notch business owners run their eyes over what we’ve been doing.

We go over all the profitability and balance sheets and discuss things like farm systems, succession, labour, expansions, etc, and each session is facilitated by one of the group who also farms and isn’t shy about calling a spade a spade.

You know where you stand at the end of the group’s visit. It’s a mentally draining day and I’m often awake at 2am the following morning, with some comment bouncing around in my head or a new idea.

One of my agenda items was a discussion on the greenhouse gas debate. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but I’m trying to maintain a degree of reason as this madness coming from Wellington continues.

The group didn’t have anything new for me, but two things that have been bouncing around in my head: What removes CO2 from the atmosphere? I’m no academic but I’m pretty sure plants are the only things that do this. What do we have on our farms? Plants and lots of them.

Our rural co-operatives constantly tell us that overseas customers love New Zealand-produced food. It’s about time those co-operatives stepped up and figured out how to monetise this provenance story for us now, as Wellington is trying to remove any chance we have of being profitable. There are a few outliers that are having a go, but it needs to become a mainstream thing for the whole farming industry to get ahead.

When will this madness end? Has anyone in Wellington got any common sense? Don’t answer that – we’re trying to take the moral high ground here. Surely long-term thinking will prevail. Between now and then we have to do what we can to keep going and remain positive.

We’re really lucky here in Wairarapa that there have been farm discussion groups running for maybe 40 years. There is a culture of openness in these groups and we’re all a part of them to learn and provide advice to our fellow farmers.

Farm discussion groups are not for everyone, but I think over the years all the farmers in our region have come out far better off than without them. Often it’s just to reinforce that what you’re doing is on the right track but sometimes you’re shown what not to do. Best of all is rubbing shoulders with others in the same boat and you can see that you’re not the only one having a bad run.

In the next few weeks all of our winter trade lambs will head off farm, we’ll start docking shortly, there’s a whole lot of cattle to process with weighing, copper and a drench to do. I’m hoping the rain will stay away for a few weeks so we can enjoy taking the gumboots off and leaving them off. Roll on springtime.