In this article, Scottish farmer and FCN FarmWell Award 2021 winner Scott Dewart discusses his new approach to the start of the year – and how he stays positive and looks after his mental health.
You can access Scott’s award-winning video about finding a healthy work-life balance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOpWp7arJQQ
New year, New Me? Nah, not this year!
So, the biggest thing we always hear in January is the social media mantra of “new year, new me” however, what happens when we buck this trend?
What happens when we take a step back to reflect on the year that has just passed, what we achieved from it, what we learned from it and what we do and do not want to take into the new year with us?
Going into this year, I was faced with the stark reality that some of the most important people around me weren’t going to be there forever. With a run of bad news surrounding health with both family and friends I consider family, it has made me look at this new year differently than I have done before.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been part of the “new year, new me” phase (joined a gym in January, thought I had to make a raft of new year’s resolutions to try and change and improve me based on what social media was indicating I should do) – however this year I am trying a totally new approach – “new year, same old me, with some minor improvements!”
What this means for me? I have, since writing my last post, become far more involved on the farm than I ever thought I would be, which has been challenging trying to balance alongside a full time job and trying to achieve a sustainable balance in life, I have however taken some time to look back over 2021 and what I have achieved and the things I am proud of; something I very rarely do, especially in the depths of winter.
Trying to find the time in itself was the challenge, however I made the decision that although I had the farm to look after, every second weekend I was going to do what was needed and then try to have a few hours during the day to myself away from the cows. It wasn’t a great amount of time, but I was time I could plan things like a lunch with my friends, going to visit family for the day, or even just a walk somewhere different with the dogs, just something that took me away from my daily workload and let me relax for a few hours.
Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t always, and still doesn’t always work – there are some weekends that, if something goes wrong, or if you get off to a bad start, you just don’t have the time, however that’s okay as well. Things don’t always go to plan when livestock are involved! But if this happens, I try to find time at another point during the week, even if it’s just a later start to the day, or taking a longer lunch break to enjoy a longer than normal walk, it’s so important to me to find that time just even for half an hour, to switch off.
I have found, that when you stop and think, albeit 2021 was another challenging year with COVID and varying levels of restrictions depending on which part of the UK we are all in, it has been an incredibly good year in other aspects, I have met some amazing people, I gained a promotion at work, and I became an ambassador for FCN to name a few.
On the farm, we had one of the most productive lambings we have had, we had a good run at calving giving us some tremendous heifers to come into the herd in the future and across the industry we have seen some of the highest prices for our produce for years! Just this week, there were the first new season lambs going through the market at an average of £130. The favourable weather in the back end of the year has helped too with our ewes when the tups went out and very few returning for the second cycle, hopefully this is echoed at scanning time in a few weeks!
There were however several major challenges, which we all managed to overcome. In the spring, the rain never seemed to want to stop, as a result, we were later than normal turning out cows. We then ended up at the other end of the scale and had the drought throughout the summer, right at silage time, which made us wonder if we were going to make enough silage to get us through the winter. In comparison it turned out to be a great cut for us, and as the forecast was so good, we managed to make haylage which just now the cows are absolutely loving with next to no waste.
It has made me realise in hindsight, that no matter the challenge there is quite often a positive outcome to it at the other side, so no matter how challenging a situation can seem at the time, for example the fact we were feeding cows silage in July!! Which in the 17 years I have been involved in agriculture I can’t recall doing before. Our cows came through the summer in great condition despite the weather being unfavourable for growth and the growth we got from our youngstock was fantastic.
FCN published some fantastic research at the end of last year in collaboration with the University of Exeter which put into writing what a lot of us feel at times. I have said previously that at this time of year my mental health takes a dive, and it has certainly been no different this year. Working a 60 – 70-hour week at this time of year is by no means easy and something that not everyone can understand. It does take its toll, it has implications on how we feel, and it’s an extremely hard and difficult feeling to explain to someone or even begin to talk about, however it is important to understand that we are not alone in this and that there is always someone at the end of the phone.
This was followed on by the ‘Who’s your Julie?’ campaign which highlights the people in our lives who support us behind the scenes. I loved the videos produced and what they managed to bring attention to. We do work in an incredibly lonely and sometimes isolating industry, but it’s also an industry filled with some of the kindest people I know, we may not always ask how each other is doing, but we know if we were to lift the phone there would be a queue of folk waiting to give us a hand if we needed it.
There is also a wealth of resource at the FarmWell website which covers a variety of different situations and highlights the incredible work done by the people at FCN along with some of the other industry bodies and the support and help that is available.
No matter the situation, no matter the time, there is always someone out there to talk to about what’s going on, it can be completely anonymous and even if it’s just a chat to see what is available, please do not struggle on your own. It’s time for a positive culture change within agriculture, where asking for help doesn’t have a stigma attached to it, where we realise that no matter the time of day, time of year, there is always someone there to talk to. We have lost far too many good people through thinking that they can’t pick up the phone and ask for help.
Let’s try and change this stigma! It will not be an easy feat and not something that will happen overnight, but let’s start the wheel turning. No matter your age, enterprise mix, your location in the UK, let’s try and move away from the thought of needing to be on the farm 100% of the time or else we aren’t invested in the business. If we are able to drive efficiencies then we should be able to afford this time away from the business and the farm.
I am the biggest culprit for this, but I am trying hard to change this in myself. Even if it is just once a fortnight, finding those few hours for myself has proved invaluable and it does give you a fresh outlook on things when you go back to it.
Nothing is irreversible or un-fixable, it may seem so at the time, however there is always something that can be done to get things back on track. I think that has been my take home message from 2021 going into 2022 – that no matter the situation, no matter the news, there is always someone there to talk to, someone that can listen to what you are thinking and share the burden of what’s going on, helping you back on a positive path.
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