Managing the pressures of farming (horticulture)

By Gabrielle Stannus

Running your own horticultural business can be rewarding, yet demanding. Financial and other pressures can mount, putting a strain on your family and personal life. The Farm Family Business Handbook is a resource that growers can use to help them navigate through those tougher times.

Steve Blyth knows all about the vagaries of production horticulture. Before joining NGIA as a Biosecurity Certification Officer, Steve owned a production nursery in Western Australia. That business, started by

Steve’s parents over forty years ago, produced nearly two million stems a year for revegetation projects at its peak.

“What many people don’t realise is that horticulture is not like a hardware store” says Steve. “We can’t just shut the door on the Friday and spend time with the family”. The plants aren’t going to take care of themselves. And we only get one shot at it. First, we seed it, and then grow it, and then we have to keep the seedling alive until it’s planted. It only takes one accident in those nine months for things to go terribly wrong”.

Steve spent Christmases in the nursery; ensuring seedlings survived the summer heat. One year, Steve decided to take Boxing Day off. That day one critical solenoid out of 96 failed and Steve lost 30,000 Oil Mallee seedlings. At sixty cents each, that meant an $18,000 loss to Steve, not quite the Christmas present he had hoped for.

Farm Family Business Handbook

Kerri-Lynn Peachey, Farm Safety Project Officer at AgHealth Australia, says growers face similar pressures to farmers. These pressures include weather/drought, isolation/remoteness from services and/or markets, government legislation, managing time, and changing economic conditions. In Steve’s case, government water charges increased from $2.19 to $7.99 per kilolitre over five years, reducing his business profitability.

AgHealth Australia developed its Farm Family Business Handbook to help farmers deal with the pressures of running a business. Kerri-Lynn says this Handbook may provide valuable advice to growers like Steve feeling the strain of managing their workload.

In Steve’s case, his business struggled financially at times given its reliance on government funded projects, and its remote location and distance from potential markets. Working and living in rural Australia also meant his young family had limited access to quality educational opportunities and healthcare. Steve’s daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 13 months old. Keeping her healthy proved a challenge in a small country town, with the nearest suitable hospital 3.5 to 4 hours drive away. Fortunately, Steve’s daughter is now 18 and doing well, but it was not always the way when she was growing up.

“The Farm Family Business Handbook may not help you deal with all of your pressures and some of the options may not suit your situation. You may also be doing a lot of the things already” says Kerri-Lynn. The handbook contains three straightforward checklists that you can use to identify and manage the most difficult pressures on your business, family and yourself.

Kerri-Lynn suggests starting with the Business checklist. Choose pressures that are the most difficult to deal with and remember that some options may not suit now, but may later.

The checklists will refer you to a series of ten guides which provide more information about each pressure you have identified:

  • Financial Performance and Financial Position
  • Business Planning
  • Succession Planning
  • Workforce Management
  • Government Legislation
  • Working With Computers
  • Marketing
  • Managing Stress
  • Farm Family Matters
  • Rural Financial Counselling Services

These guides will help you to identify practical actions you can take to address the pressures and will allow you to regularly review them.

At one point, Steve sought professional advice to deal with his mounting stresses. What really helped him through though was having some good mates to talk things through with, and also the opportunity to take a step back and “breathe”. Steve says that some of the best moments he had were when he was out making deliveries. “Driving was really good for me. It gave me time to myself to think things through a bit, make a plan and tackle it” says Steve.

If you need help to make a plan to tackle your business pressures, the Farm Family Business Handbook is practical and, best of all, free. Take some time out today to check it out and you may just help your business, your family and yourself.

Need more help?

If you are facing pressures that you find difficult to cope with, you may wish to speak to someone about your problems. Mental Health Australia provide a list of help lines, websites and government mental health information services to which you can refer for information about mental illness.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.