Cultivating Communication Skills for Farming Families

Community stories: 24 April 2024

Farm businesses are inherently stressful workplaces. Managing the vagaries of climate change, working with family members, and doing so in an isolated farm environment, can be hard.

Often in farming, family and business are intertwined. The Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) was hearing from local farmers about the consequences poor communication can have on the farm business, the bottom line, safety and mental health.

Feedback from young farmers had identified poor communication as a key source of stress, anxiety and isolation, which subsequently has negative effects on their mental health.

BCG secured an In a Good Place grant to hold a one-day Tomorrow Farmer event, to discuss the skills that all members of the farming operation require to have the crucial conversations about farm business prosperity, without compromising the social fabric of a family. The event focussed on how to manage and maintain positive mental health during these conversations. Improving their ability to communicate and have the ‘difficult conversations’, often across generations, was the aim of this project.

After rescheduling three times due to lock downs, the training, which was led by Tom Bell from Tomorrow Man, was held on 16 March 2022. And it wasn’t just for men – it was open to everyone interested and there was a broad cross-section of ages that attended.

Approximately 40 farmers, advisers and industry representatives attended the event with a further 20 people registered but unable to attend due to needing to isolate as per COVID guidelines.

While the numbers were less than anticipated, this allowed the group to participate in interactive sessions without the need for a panel session. Tom created a safe and intimate environment for people to feel comfortable asking questions and sharing experiences throughout the sessions.

The sessions covered active listening, asking the right questions, storytelling for connection, being authentic, and knowing when to call in extra support to make important decisions.

The engaging and participatory event provided a framework for ongoing, open and honest communication – a tool as useful as any other in a farmer’s toolbox.

When surveyed about the benefits gained from the event and what tools they planned to implement as a result of attending, the resounding answer was to ‘listen more!’.

“It was one of the best events to meet people in the BCG in my experience and I found it to be a very energising day. Thank you!”