Reflecting on farm practices with Tom Kent
by Sarah Cornell, GippsDairy
Tom Kent is a 25-year-old dairy farmer from Lang Lang, South Gippsland. After growing up on his parent’s farm and then becoming a diesel mechanic, Tom headed back to manage his parents farm in Lang Lang in 2018. Since coming back into the industry, Tom has been a very active member of the dairy community.
Tom is currently vice-chair of the West Gippsland YDN committee, attended the Don Campbell Memorial Tour to Tasmania in 2019 and has attended various conferences including the Australian Dairy Conference twice. Tom was also recently sponsored by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation to attend the Young Farmers Business Conference in Dubbo. Tom is a very active member of the Young Dairy Network, helping to organise events, with him also getting the opportunity to speak at a Herd Testing night in Drouin in March 2020.
On July 1st 2020, Tom experienced a life changing event on his parent’s farm, which led him to draw on his mental resilience, love of farming and the support of friends, family and his fiancée Kim, to pull through the incident. After weeks of working excessive hours, Tom attributes fatigue to not thinking clearly when he got his foot trapped in running machinery. Factors contributing to the preceding long work hours included calving, doing their own fertiliser spreading instead of using contractors and difficult working conditions during a very wet season–all of which many farmers know too well.
Tom was airlifted to the Alfred Hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries on his foot. In the following months, Tom’s incredible
resilience and mind set was paramount in his recovery and achieving the goal he set for himself to return to farm duties by the beginning of October 2020 – three short months after his incident. “During a trip to New Zealand in 2019 I heard a presentation by Gilbert Enoka who is the All Blacks Manager and Mental Skills coach,” Tom said. “Gilbert was talking about ‘above the line thinking’, which refers to thinking positively. I remember Gilbert saying that ‘negativity blocks out creativity’, in other words if you think negatively, it blocks your ability to think about solutions and new ways of doing things”.
During his stay in hospital, Tom reached out to Gilbert Enoka and received access to another of Gilbert’s mental health presentations. “It inspired me to continue on with a positive frame of mind,” he said. Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes from Tom’s incident was using the opportunity during his recovery period to re-assess and reevaluate their on farm activities and look for alternative ways to protect against similar incidents in the future.
“In the past I would do things without questioning it, whereas now I evaluate the need for the task and whether there is an alternative way of doing things. One example of this is when it comes to the intensity of the fertiliser program and the additional pressure that an intense program places on the farm workforce,” Tom said.
Following his incident, Tom’s advice is to stop and question routine practices if they are negatively affecting the workforce. “Although we’re using less than half the urea we were using prior to my incident, we’re still getting great production,” he said.
Other measures the Kent’s have implemented on farm to reduce fatigue and improve work life balance include employing a trainee to assist with farm duties and increased use of agricultural contractors to share the workload where possible. “I now know that it’s okay to think outside the box and do what is right for your farm,” he said.
Thankfully, Tom’s family farm is well set up with policies, procedures and appropriate Work Cover insurance. “Work Safe did a routine inspection of our farm 12 months prior to my incident and then inspected the relevant machinery after the incident.”
Following being air lifted to hospital, Tom reminds everyone to make sure they have ambulance cover, otherwise his journey to hospital would have left him out of pocket by thousands of dollars. Tom is grateful that he has been able to return to full farming duties, which he loves. “I don’t dwell on the incident, but have used it as an opportunity to think about how to work smarter, not harder,” Tom said.