Always Another Way

Bob Wood has spent a lifetime helping Northland farmers get the best out of their stock. He says tapping into the wisdom of local networks is the key to managing the ups and downs of farming. 

Tell us a bit about your background Bob.

I’ve always been in Northland. I started farming soon as I left school and progressed from wages through to share milking, had a break and worked in construction then joined Livestock Improvement (LIC) and did 36 years straight with them. I covered farms mainly north of Whangarei, so I’ve been on quite a few of the farms up here and met a heck of a lot of people.

What do you enjoy about farming?

The outdoors and working with animals. I’m an outdoors person. I’ve done a lot of scuba diving, fishing and boating in the past and should be doing more of that now. My grandfather was a great fisherman. I used to go with him quite a bit. You’re spoilt for choice up here in Northland with the beaches.

What are the main challenges farmers face up your way?

The big ones are the weather and the landscape. We’re either too dry or too wet, which necessitates a lot of planning and thinking about getting the cows off when it’s too wet or being unable to feed them when it’s too dry. There’s also stress around returns and income. If you’re working hard but the money’s not coming in, life’s difficult. I’ve been on a lot of farms and sometimes when you walk in, you can just feel the tension.

How do you help people in that situation?

Even though you’re there for another reason, often people just need to sit and talk to the person who comes down their driveway. By listening you can quite often solve a few of the problems.

Can you give us an example?

Well in terms of livestock there are things I can suggest if the cows aren’t doing too well, or short of feed. What about doing a herd test? Use the info to sort out the cows that are doing well and keep them on and cull or dry the other ones off. There’s always a way around a problem but sometimes when you’re deep in it, you feel stuck.

Farming can be a pretty isolating occupation at times, can’t it?

Exactly. That’s why you’ve got to come up for air and realise there’s always another way of doing what you’re doing. If you do the same as you’ve always done, you’re going to get the same results! People often think that their system is the best and it may or may not be. If you talk to someone else – another farmer or advisor you value – you’ll be amazed at the difference even small tweaks can make.

Are you still involved in farming since you retired?

I’ve buttoned back a hell of a lot, but I’ve still got five different herds that I work with. I enjoy it because a lifetime of knowledge doesn’t go away. I know their farms and I can see what’s going on and offer suggestions. It’s up to them whether they accept the advice, but nine times out of ten they take it on board because they’ve been dealing with me for 20-plus years.

When Farmstrong first started about half the farmers surveyed said they struggled to get time off farm. How can farmers achieve better worklife balance?

Number one for me is to be well set up and organised. Being prepared, having enough staff and having enough staff who are trained properly to do the job are all critical.

Any advice for getting through the winter slog? Farmers often mention that working in wet weather day after day takes a toll not just physically but mentally.

The main thing is probably having somebody that you trust to be able to chew the fat with. The other thing is taking a bit of time off farm, if you can, so you don’t get stale.

What sort of mindset is required to deal with pressures of farming?

You need to be flexible in your thinking, open to other people’s suggestions and prepared to listen. If you’re feeling under the pump, do a bit of a tiki tour and have a look at a few farms in your area. Farmers just love to show other farmers what they’re doing, so use them as a resource. It’s good to connect with other people and get a break.

What’s your best tip for keeping well on farm?

Reach out for help if you need it. There are people out there just like myself who are more than happy to pass on what they know or just sit and listen. And if you’re living in a paradise like we are up here, it’s really madness if you’re not taking the odd day off.

Why don’t people do that?

They think if they leave the farm for 10 minutes that something’s going to go wrong. But if you’ve got the right people and have trained them that gives you peace of mind. If you haven’t got anybody to help you out, then you’re always going to be paddling upstream without a paddle aren’t you?

If you see someone struggling on farm what’s the best way to help?

We’ve all got two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. If you listen to people and listen well, you’ll be able to help.

Farmstrong is a nationwide, rural wellbeing programme that helps farmers and growers manage the challenges of farming. Last year, 14,000 farmers attributed an increase in their wellbeing to the programme. For free tools and resources visit

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