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Words by Carmen Quade of Agrifocussed and farmer from Tallimba, NSW 

To be honest, our worst harvest in 2019 was also our best Christmas. Everything was back in the shed well before the 25th and we had plenty of time to clean up after dust storms, relax, shop and prepare for some lovely family time. This year is different. A big harvest is lovely and always welcome, but it brings more work and longer hours and things get a bit out of wack. I don’t think that there is such thing as work life balance at this time of year, it’s more like a work life see-saw. But just like the see-saw, you need to know how to ride it, or you might go sailing off in the wrong direction.

Here are a few tips on managing a busy harvest and Christmas at your place….

  • Say yes to traditions that fit your farm and your family – We go out just before Christmas and shoot down a pine tree. Some families have a special paddock picnic or decorate a mailbox. Your memorable family tradition might be a month of chips and packet biscuits in kids lunch boxes, after dinner movies and dirty cars. Choose traditions which place less stress on a household, not more.
  • Say no to new traditions that don’t fit – I think it’s wonderful that most families in warmer regions of Australia have moved beyond a hot Christmas lunch. However, some other European or American traditions are sneaking in. Faffing about with Elf on a shelf and making gingerbread houses might be great for people stuck at home in the middle of winter, but they are not for us. If you find your over achieving Facebook friends a bit wearing,  tick the snooze for 30 days box, you stay friends, but you have a nice little break.
  • Make very conscious decisions about extra work – Adrenalin and optimism are running high and we all want to make an extra buck. Lots of opportunities can pop up for additional contracting work, doing extra loads in the truck and bright new money making ideas. Do your sums. Be really aware of what this could be costing you in terms of delayed summer spraying programs, less time with the kids, less rest, more accidents, and extra pressure on the boss at home.

 

  • Think about saying no to more visitors, just for this year – In our AgriFocused survey of harvest wages and conditions about 90% of harvest staff were being provided with at least some meals and accommodation, often in the family home. Many farmers are running a high occupancy air-b n-b along with Uber eats this time of year. There are also potentially lots of extra visitors. There is something special about opening our homes to family and friends and letting them share in the joy and excitement of harvest. However it is okay to say, “sorry, no, this year we are really are too busy”. Mentioning mouse plagues, gastro, nits, broken air conditioning, and snakes in the house can also gently get the point across.

 

  • Think about saying no to end of year events – Is an end of year day-care party for a two year old really important in the scheme of things? What about the ladies golf luncheon or the dart club Christmas party? Trust me, there will be plenty more opportunities in the years to come. You can also wind-up afterschool activities and homework a week or two early. Stop and think; is this is going to add to the joy or the chaos?

 

Remember, there are no rules this time of year. Before Christmas was a world-wide festival of excessive consumption it was a celebration of a baby born in a shed and laid in a feed trough. Before that it was a pagan mid-winter ritual. Basically, you have a bit of scope to change things for this year, or into the future if you want to. Family time and connection is important, harvest is important. Just like riding the see saw, hold on tight, shout out a warning when things are going down, and enjoy the view when things are looking up. Header driver needs a bed for the night? Well, you can always pop the baby in a feed trough.

To access advice from professionals for free, all growers and their family can use the GrainGrowers Family Support Program. Click here for more info on how to access these services.