Look out for each other and look after yourself – that is the poignant message Fiona Marshall is extending to grain growers this harvest.
Recently appointed to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Southern Regional Panel, Mrs Marshall says safety and wellbeing – physical and mental – should be the number one priority at harvest.
“Safety is the most important thing heading into and throughout harvest. You have to look after each other, take care of yourself and maintain conversations,” says Mrs Marshall, a farm business manager and grain grower at Mulwala in the southern Riverina.
She says the need to support others has been heightened in 2017 following severe weather events, particularly late season frosts, that are expected to result in significant crop losses for some growers.
“The late frosts have not been widespread across entire regions, and that is what makes this situation so incredibly difficult – unlike a drought or a flood when so many farmers would be going through the same thing at the same time and recognition of their plight is extensive, these frost events are in isolation and growers are left to deal with the fall-out.
“When your neighbours are celebrating a bumper harvest but your crops have been wiped out by frost, it is a devastating position for a grower to be in.”
Mrs Marshall, who has been farming with her husband Craig for 21 years, says it is critical that growers affected by frost and others hit by recent damaging weather events seek support and maintain communication with family, friends and others in the community. Having already spoken with a number of growers impacted by frost, she says it is essential to keep the conversation channels open.
“Communication, in fact, is the key for all grain growers, especially at this time of the year.
“If you are lying in bed at night worrying about money or how you are going to get the next crop in, talk to the bank manager, talk to other people. Don’t internalise because you will only make yourself more tired, stressed and anxious.
“As hard as it may be, you just have to deal with situations and move on so whatever happens, at least you are in action and not just dwelling on something and achieving nothing.”
Mrs Marshall says had they not received plentiful rainfall in late October 2017, their harvest would be finishing instead of just starting.
“Prior to the rain, the crops were struggling and the outlook for harvest was not great. Even in that position, it was all about keeping balance and looking at your priorities and realising that the most important thing is to maintain your relationships and look after yourself so you can go again in 2018.”
Early December 2017 rains of more than 60 millimetres are likely to impact on grain quality but the Marshalls are still expecting a “bigger than average” harvest in terms of yield quantity so safety over the coming weeks is very much front of mind.
“We have got a lot of work in front of us to get the grain off. The days will be long and they can be hot, and so many things can go wrong at harvest,” Mrs Marshall says.
“Farms are the most dangerous workplaces in the nation and at harvest that fact is amplified with so many people and large machinery involved.
“Not cutting corners, and keeping people fed, hydrated and well rested is vital. If you’re tired, you have just got to stop and rest. Getting to the end of harvest without incident and celebrating together is so important.”
Mrs Marshall says downtime after the crops are harvested is also imperative: “Harvest is an absolutely exhausting process – but it’s what we work towards all year. Taking some time away from the farm at the end of it all is critical.”
Mrs Marshall, a mother of three children aged 20, 18 and 15, is one of three new GRDC Southern Regional Panel members appointed for the next two years.
With a background in biological science, she has also been working part-time as a school teacher, a role she will relinquish at the end of 2017 to allow her to focus on GRDC Panel responsibilities.
Mrs Marshall is passionate about improving the profile and profitability of Australian grain growers and is relishing the opportunity to contribute to that agenda through her position on the Panel.
A key strength of the GRDC, the three Regional Panels play a critical advisory role in informing GRDC investments in research, development and extension to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.