You think yours is harder?

Under the heading Bleating Farmers Cactus Kate challenges any farmer to prove they actually work harder than any city worker or small business owner.


I could quote Vincent McNabb who said: “There are those who wrest a living from the land and that’s work; there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s trade; and there are those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from the land and that’s finance”.


I might also quote Invercargill MP Eric Roy, who when asked about his early impressions of parliament said, “There are too many people here who’ve never had a bad lambing.”


I could then talk about those weeks in late winter and early spring when you work from before dawn until after dark in the cold and wet, battling the weather, keeping your patience with recalcitrant ewes, persevering gently with lambs when experience and instinct tell you they’re almost certainly beyond help and not giving into despair when the piles of slinks mount in spite of all your efforts. I could talk about the stress of living on credit for months because your bank balance just creeps into the black once or twice a year if any combination of the market and weather and dollar and interest rates and other variables over which you have little or no control are in your favour.


I could mention the long hours, the hard physical work and mental demands of calving, and calf rearing; and how no sooner that’s over than you’re in to mating and irrigating, making silage and hay, while feed budgeting and dealing with staff some of whom don’t care about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it; don’t know how to keep themselves or their houses (which you own and they live in as part of their employment package) clean; and have no respect for their own or other people’s property.


Then there’s paying wages which isn’t just working out what the staff and the IRD are owed, but also what goes in child support, to the Ministry of Justice for overdue fines and the finance company for overdue interest and debts – in spite of them starting with a package including accommodation and wages well north of $30,000.


I could mention droughts, floods, snow and wind, pests and diseases.

I could also argue about the intellectual snobbery in Kate’s comment that farming isn’t rocket science. It’s not but that doesn’t mean a job which requires brawn doesn’t also require brains and that people who get their hands dirty don’t need to think. Farming requries a variety of physical, personal and intellectual skills including but not limited to engineering, mechanics, fencing, animal husbandry, soil, plant and vet science, accounting, budgeting, HR, determination, intuition, patience, charm and a sense of humour.


But there’s no point in the mine’s bigger/harder than yours argument about farming and other work. There is no easy way to earn a good living, wherever you’re trying to do it. Every job has its difficulties and its rewards, and the comment which occasioned Kate’s rant was an observation rather than a complaint.


It came from Charlie Pederson who said:  “When I started farming 31 years ago the average dairy herd size was 125 cows. Today it’s 347 and even at that size you are really just scratching along.”  

That could easily apply to any other small business – urban or rural  – because compliance costs and economies of scale have changed so that what would have been an economic operation, in the city or the country,  three decades ago would not be today.




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