The farm is primarily shaped and built by the farmer, this has to be the biggest influence, more than any physical features that the farm may possess. All farms have positive and negative attributes and the farmer’s role is to enhance the positive and reduce the negative. The farmer’s perception as to what is + or – will shape the way that the farm’s system develops. So, for example, whereas 40 years ago I saw weeds, pest and disease as major threats to my crops, I no longer have this attitude. I see these as vital components of my farm system, elements from which I can learn and evolve a way of working with natural systems.
A love of Nature has to be key to being able to understand natural systems. I was aware of my passion for Nature even as a child. I was interested in what happened in our garden and took up growing when 10 years old. A study of what went on with worms and insects was there in me. Unfortunately, I was not given any encouragement in my interest, so it was slow to develop and never really got going till I entered farming. A farm gives endless opportunities for looking at Nature and being able to comprehend our role as part of that. How we interact with Nature, in our personal lifestyle as well as in our farming system needs to be one of the main drivers in farm management.
An enquiring mind, to ask questions and to challenge the norms that we are brought up to believe in is essential. I suppose cynicism is at the root of this attitude. Not for the sake of it, but for the value in formulating alternative ideas to the conventional ones that we are continually being fed.
Attention to detail. Because nNature thrives on incredible detail. I suppose one needs to be bordering on anal or perhaps it’s being close to or on the autistic spectrum that makes one like this. My attention to detail drives me nuts sometimes, but it does feature as a prominent driver in managing a farm system.
Family support. No one person could ever successfully manage a farm; it has to be a thing that is shared with others. To do so on oneself would inevitable lead to disaster, as seen in the number of suicides and failed health that take place on farms. They can be lonely places, but with others involved they become places of great beauty, experience, teachings and intimate in thoughts shared. I have been unbelievably lucky with people to share the farming with. Lin’s dogged longevity is a fine example of physical and moral support. If I had not been lucky enough to have been able to weave Tamara into the fabric (aided by Lin) then it is difficult to imagine how I could have continued to operate the farm once Lin had died. It would have become a lonely place with little future for new ideas or development. Not easy for somebody from outside of the family to step in and take up the challenge.
Having a person to hand over the farm when the time comes is another aspect of continuing success. Unless one can feel safe about the future running of the farm, interest will wane, especially so with the advance of years and declining personal abilities (getting old!). It does not have to be a person, a group of people will probably be a better solution, but they need to be able to share the responsibility that they take on, and that responsibility is working with Nature to feed people whilst enhancing the natural environment.
And last but absolutely not least is an understanding of the importance and workings of the Soil. This really is at the heart of successful farm management. There is so much to the subject that it is easy to become bogged down in the enormity of it all, especially true now that so many self proclaimed “soil gurus” are banging on about minute details, too. Such information about things we may not need to know as farmers. Great if all you do is study soils but too much if you only need to know how soil behaves on your farm for your crops.
These points are not in order of importance, I would not dare to try do that, each is probably as important as the other. It would be really interesting to know and get views from other farms that are well managed, to see what they come up with. The question is a big one but one that needs asking and hopefully there is much to learn from the response.