The UFU is featuring excerpts from ‘The Resilient Farmer’ Doug Avery’s book in the run up to his events here in October. His book is entertaining, heart-breaking, and inspiring and no doubt the events will be too.
Excerpt from Doug Avery’s book ‘The Resilient Farmer’ from the chapter: My Top Paddock
Even at my lowest point, I wanted to find a solution. I remember sitting with a neighbouring farmer, my friend Kev Loe, looking out at the hillsides, the way they were splitting open under that sun’s blowtorch, knowing we had no water for our animals, feeling disgusted and ashamed and gutted. He said to me: ‘There’s as much opportunity out there, Doug, as there’s ever been – it’s just, have we got the eyes to see it?’ I thought and thought about that. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it beside my computer. I used to stare at that bit of paper and think: ‘But what…? And how? How?’
Well, he was right about the opportunity, but I was never going to find the answers on my own. I wasn’t even asking the right question. ‘How?’ was not the place to start. I was still some years away from meeting the guy who would teach me the real question to ask.
Way back then, the new idea that rescued me and set me off on my process of discovery and change came in the form of a plant – a plant we’d been growing for eighty years, but hadn’t seen the potential of: Lucerne, whose long tap root has the power to transform the way we utilise water: I have since been dubbed ‘the Lucerne Lunatic’ for my endless attempts to spread the word to other farmers. But as a friend of mine said: ‘Doug, your story’s not really about lucerne, is it?
‘No,’ I agreed. ‘It just happened to be our tool. This story is about changing the way we integrate into the world.’
That new idea eventually led me to farm differently and over the years took me from failure to success, with a tonne of help along the way. I went from zero income in 1998 to winning South Island Farmer of the Year in 2010. We’ve increased our land holdings and massively increased our outputs and our profitability, while being far more environmentally friendly. We are the same family with the same farms in the same valley in the same climate. The world hasn’t changed but the story has changed. We turned our system on its head and we became a success story.
Learning to farm differently – to farm with nature, rather than against it – is at the heart of that success. But, even more important, I had to change my thinking processes. I became emotionally resilient. Now, I always put that first. I have no comprehension how people can run a business of any kind if they’re not emotionally strong.
In the last few years, my interest in life has turned to the management of my own head. My top paddock. Any of us, rural or urban, can do well, but only if we untangle the processes of our own minds.
I’m not a book-learned person. I learn from life, from my experiences, and most of all from those around me, and I’ve been lucky to meet some wonderful people.
They probably all thought I was talking too much to take in anything they were saying, but I was listening. Sponge-learning – that’s what I do. My great motivating desire is not to be better than anyone else but to be better than I used to be. Self-improvement is at the core of this man.
My story is not just about agriculture. It’s about having life go so badly wrong, but finding solutions that work. It’s about learning to pick the people who can help you create solutions, as opposed to those who can just further the damage.
We have been helped to find incredible success here at Bonavaree, and now my journey is around sharing the things that made a difference to me.
Good people don’t stop and run off with the prize. They try to create and enhance the opportunity for a prize for somebody else.
Continued in next week’s UFU Watch.
Dates for the tour: 7th October, Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown; 8th October, Mourne Country Hotel, Newry; 9th October, Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen; and 10th October, Tullyglass Hotel, Ballymena. All events start with a light supper at 7pm.
Tickets for the tour are £10 per person, which includes a light supper. For more information and to book your ticket visit www.resilientfarmertour.co.uk