Busy farmer Frances Coles has a hope for Matariki, to ease the load.

Have you ever heard of a concept called ‘The Invisible Load’?

A very wise woman named Dr Libby Weaver has even written a whole book on it, saying “The invisible load is the stress we carry, that no one sees, that drives how we think and feel. From the physical load on our body, to the emotional load on our mind, this invisible load is what really sits at the heart of our stress.”

How heavy are farmers’ invisible loads right now? (Apologies guys, but I’ll be slanting this from the female perspective – not to in any way diminish the weight of the loads you are all carrying, but might I suggest you check in with your wives/mothers/sisters/friends).

Farming is by nature tough, with many variables beyond our control – weather, prices paid for our goods and costs of inputs to name just three. But it feels like it is getting mentally tougher by the year too, in ways invisible to many outside the sector.

Traditionally the females in a farming partnership often take on responsibilities in the areas of finances, HR and compliance. All alongside any role they may play in the business such as being hands-on over the busy period of calving, relief milking at weekends, or being the general farmhand/delivery-person/errand-runner.

Then they may be caring for children, older parents, migrant staff adjusting to life in a new country… Often there are also voluntary roles in the community to be filled too – PTA, sports coach, fundraising co-ordinator… the list goes on.

And all of this comes with so many thoughts! From the moment our eyes open in the morning until long after they should have been shut again at night for the mythical eight hours of beauty sleep.

‘Did I get all of the kids’ hockey uniforms through the wash? I’d better check what time their game is so I can put a message up in the team group chat for the other parents. Then I’ll need to swing past the supermarket to grab a few things for that baking I need to do for the fundraising cake stall. Oh and the car will need to be fuelled up since the light came on during the drive home from the BOT meeting last night. What’s the date today? Dammit! The FEP audit is on Monday and I still haven’t had that certificate emailed back from the water meter installer yet, better follow up with them…’ and on it goes…

When I first married Aaron and was introduced to dairy farming life, autumn could be relatively relaxed if the weather was kind, and winter was downright quiet. Now the dairy season seems unrelentingly busy. The compliance workload is never-ending. The dry period is filled with workshops, audits and checklists to be completed. There are expectations/standards/obligations to be met for our land, animals, people, dairy companies, regional authorities… and it all has to be documented in ever-increasing detail.

Farmers are seen as the glue that holds the community and economy together – they keep on keeping on – even through a global pandemic, weather extremes of near-biblical proportions, and financial pressures that haven’t been seen for a generation or more.

It’s exhausting, and I wonder, who has the farmers’ interests at heart? Do you feel like you are being understood and more importantly, well-represented?

We’re coming to the start of a new season, and with Matariki holiday near, a spiritual new year of sorts. Let’s all set some intentions to make ourselves better heard this year, so we don’t get to the end of this coming season even more invisibly loaded than ever before.

Ask for help when you need it. Be honest about how challenging farming is. Push back against any pointless compliance and bureaucracy. Make sure the rural sector has a voice at the table – be it your local business association, chamber of commerce, community board, council, or seat in central government. If you can’t be that voice, then at least vote well for someone who can be.

Let’s work together to make the farming load less invisible, better understood and definitely more well-supported. It’s time for change!