Red Tractor In Field With Cows In Background

Are you resilient enough to change?

It’s hard to know if you are resilient until your resilience is tested. Farmers may feel ‘tests’ coming thick and fast – from price fluctuations and market changes to adverse weather events, such as drought or flooding. And they aren’t always negative. Moving through a time of business growth can still be testing and require resilience.

There is no doubt, the next few years in agriculture are going to be testing as we move into new forms of farm support and land management. Whether positive or negative remains to be seen but helping yourself to a smoother transition will be down, in part, to your resilience.

In the first of our articles on resilience, we talk to industry expert, Professor Nicola Shadbolt, about five characteristics she’s identified in resilient farmers who adapt to change well.

Willingness to change: why does it help?

The agricultural world is changing – period. But accepting those changes and having the willingness to adapt is not a given. “Resilient farmers accept they can’t carry on as they are and have a willingness to change,” says Nicola. “They not only accept the world has changed but are willing to change with it.”

Being self-aware: why is knowing yourself as important as knowing others?

Even if you’ve accepted change is required, if you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s hard to identify what you need to progress. “Good operators know their strengths and weaknesses and what knowledge and skills they lack when considering a change or development in their farming system,” says Nicola. “They bring those with complementary skills into the business rather than employing staff most like them.”

Locus of control: what does this mean and why is it useful?

Nicola explains: “A good way to tell if you have an internal or external locus of control is how you react when there’s a problem on the farm. If you look for someone or something to blame – your family or staff, the government or the weather – you have an external locus of control. If you take accountability for what’s happened and ask yourself what you could have done differently, your locus of control is internal. An internal locus makes it easier to learn from a situation and prevent it happening again. Resilient farmers are more likely to have this internal locus; it’s a powerful trait as it’s all about doing better by learning from the experience.”

Social sense making: how does this help resilience?

Social sense making recognises the strength of working collectively with like-minded people and farmers are particularly good at it. Farming can be isolating, particularly for solo operators, so it’s no surprise farmers enjoy attending shows, farm visits and discussion groups. During the pandemic, with face-to-face events on hold, we’ve seen many farmers embracing online forums, such as webinars and podcasts.

“Farmers always find the other farmers in a crowd, but to build resilience, farmers may also need to look beyond their peers,” suggests Nicola. “Learning from other businesses about issues less familiar or not exclusive to farming can be as powerful as learning from each other.”

Strategic thinking focus: which side of your brain dominates?

Are you an ‘ideas’ person? Are you able to dream big and see the possibilities? Or are you the one who takes the idea and makes it happen? Few of us are both and our preference depends on whether the left or right side of our brain dominates. “A good team needs both,” stresses Nicola. “But the dreamer is critical for resilience, to help drive the business forward. Creativity must be allowed to happen so the best ideas aren’t missed however frustrating strategic planners might find their strategic thinking, creative colleagues!”

Business resilience: optimisation and adaptability

In our next article, we’ll be focusing on business resilience and the move from short-term optimisation to long-term adaptability. We’ll also look at risk management’s role in resilience and why risk can be positive.



Professor Nicola Shadbolt

Nicola Shadbolt is Professor of Farm and Agribusiness Management at Massey University delivering farm and agribusiness management research and education. She is also a Climate Change Commissioner and Chair of Plant and Food Research in New Zealand. Although she grew up in New Zealand, Nicola did a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at Nottingham University and spent time in Europe and North America. She has been a farmer for over 30 years and currently a shareholder/ director of both share and cash-leasing arrangements with five equity partnerships including 1000 dairy cows, sheep, beef, deer and forestry. In 2018, Nicola was awarded the Officer of NZ Order of Merit for services to agribusiness.





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Future Farming

Farmers are currently seeing the biggest changes in agriculture for more than 50 years. As a mutual insurer, we’ve stood by South West farmers since 1903 and through our Future Farming Programme, we are helping our Members and the wider farming community navigate the changes ahead in this transformative time. 

Find out more here

Developing a deeper understanding of resilience

Professor Shadbolt's second article for the Future Farming programme focuses on building a resilient farm business through risk management; click the button below to find out more.

Read more here