I’m stressed – I’m usually a very matter of fact and relaxed person.We tend to put minor disasters behind us. As long as the four of us are healthy and happy, most stresses rolls off me like water off a duck’s back.
I’m mentally burnt out – I’ve just discovered that’s what it is called when you’re overworked and stressed to the extent that these symptoms are showing. I’m sleeping more than usual, I went for a nap on Sunday instead of a cycle and my shoulders were as sore as if someone bludgeoned me with a big stick.
I feel like I’m turning into a grumpy old woman and I’m annoyed a lot of the time. Not with family or friends or animals but with any business who delivers a shoddy service and unfortunately I’ve experienced a lot of those lately. Indeed, I’m at the stage I’m grateful when talking to business people with a bit of cop on.
Why? Well, read on and you’ll find out why transferring a farm to a company is part of the reason.
What can be done to relieve stress and burnout? I’ll share my plans at the end of the post and I’ll you know in a month or so if they have worked.
Yes, I know it’s 2016 but if you’re a female dealing with men when setting up a company, even if you own the farm (not that that should matter), you may be surprised to find yourself faced with blatant sexism. I’m talking about not addressing you in a meeting, not making eye contact, not including you in letters, scarcely acknowledging your presence. Yes, you’re there as a business person and you’re expecting to be treated with equality and respect. This happened in November and six months on, I plan on writing about this incident in more detail now that I think I can just about find some humour in the whole situation. Be prepared for sexist attitudes and have a plan in place to deal with it when (not if) it happens.
2. A Relaxed Process
Timing is an issue in terms of controlling the stress of transferring a farm to a company and doing it all during a busy calving season isn’t advisable. Calving is tiring and can be demanding but we’ve always coped fine, even the year that the crypto hit the calves really badly and some died. Crypto hit again this year and thank goodness we didn’t lose any but it was a lot of extra work. However, getting calls from the bank and solicitor plus having to think about things other than the cows and calves makes for a taxing and hectic time. Bear in mind that our conversations when calves are ill would normally revolve around if a sick calf had drank that morning, the colour and consistency of their poo and then having to add in whether we are going to accept the bank’s terms and conditions for loans or where to find something the solicitor needed meant our patience started to run thin.
Bad hair day, not to mention more grey hairs – I wonder why!!
3. Best Buddies with your Bank
Don’t expect to be best friends with your bank manager or indeed, anyone in the bank at the end of it. Now that the process is over, I can see that although the bank manager obviously works for the bank (don’t ever think they are ever putting your priorities first), he did do a lot for us and I’m sure he was sick of getting irate phone calls and emails from me especially as I did win some battles. You won’t win them all but found that if I delayed replying until really irritated, he seemed to know that he wouldn’t win this one. Pick your battles – know the ones you want to win but present a few others too so he feels he wins a couple.
I was dealing with 99% of the communication with the various agencies. Brian’s attitude was often “oh, tell them to f**k off”. It was my attitude too but I had to “translate” it. I had planned on getting the bank to reduce the securities on the loans as they had come down quite a bit (that’s something to look out for as the banks will sometimes put farmers’ entire farms down as security even on small loans). The securities held were valued at approx €1.8 million. The bank manager suggested that I leave it for a year or so until we are negotiating a new loan as time was getting tight so I agreed. However, when the loan agreement came, the bank wanted an additional security on life assurance for both of us for €300K each. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t a good idea for us to review our life assurance but I was damned if the bank thought they were going to have security on it. I tend to be brief when people annoy me so he received an email which included “tell Credit they can go sing for it” and that was the last I heard of it.
4. Common Sense
There’s a saying that common sense isn’t so common any more and it is so so true. Brian’s opinion of most professionals now is “their head is stuck firmly up their own a***s” and it certainly seems to be the case. In fact, I would argue that the more qualified they are and the more they charge, their heads are so firmly rammed up there, there is no common sense left in their brains. I’ll give you an example of a daft request from the bank. Because of our loans, we had to “sell” the outfarm to the company and as it was part of the bank’s security, they acted as if they were buying it for themselves and went through everything with a fine tooth comb but some requests were just plain silly. As well as requesting a valuation they wanted an architect to check all of the boundaries of the farm against the folio maps. Apart from the expense of this (remember the bank’s solicitor added more than €2K to the cost too), did they really think that I had the time to go out and plant hedging for false boundaries., not to mention that the land has to equal the maps when we apply for our BPS payments. An email with the subject line “Be warned – this is a rant” meant someone eventually saw the idiocy of that request and it wasn’t mentioned again.
I’m not saying any of the people I dealt with were rude but it drove me mad the way the bank acted as if it was definitely going to get the farm because we were going to fail. They didn’t say so, but they were darn pedantic about everything. For example, we pay for water on the outfarm and I don’t tend to pay very often as Laois Co Council don’t make making payments very easy. When I looked it up, we owed €378 so not a huge value against the valuation of 100 acres. They wanted to see a receipt for that amount so I paid and sent it on. However, I had been invoiced in February for water used up to 31 Dec 2015. They wanted proof it was paid up to date. So my solicitor had to contact the council and eventually discovered that the next invoice run wouldn’t be until during the summer. What annoyed me was the attitude that they seemed to expect us to fail as a business. Our milk earnings were down €5K in April compared to last year due to the drop in milk price but we’ve an excellent track record in terms of making each and every repayment.
7. Experts Displaying Expertise
No, I’m afraid most professionals are not experts in what they do. Do not expect many “experts” to know what they are talking about. Apart from Nigel Dagg, our accountant (based in Kilkenny and excellent if you happen to be looking for an accountant) and the guy from the DVO, I found I was having to triple check everything to ensure I was getting the right answers. While some books contain case studies to help you make the right decision, they are quite vague and I couldn’t find anything to provide us with a step by step explanation through the process. Once you’ve made the decision to go for it, it can feel like it’s the blind leading the blind.
However, no one in Teagasc (pronouced “chog – ask” – and the usually helpful and relatively knowledgeable Irish advisory service for farmers) seemed to know much about transferring your farm to a company. I did get the email address of one guy and emailed him twice. He did know his stuff but I only received very terse responses. They are great for dropping clangers too (e.g. a week before the BPS deadline, one advisor mentioned that there was a clawback of 50% on entitlements sold this year and as we were selling entitlements of 40 acres to the company, this would have huge financial implications – it wasn’t the case but I did had to make 3 phone calls and send one email to find out). They really need to have a couple of experts spread around the country that can sit down with farmers and give them a list of things they need to do. Not only do farmers have to be experts in so many things in their weekly work but we also seem to have to know everything in setting up a company before it starts (especially if you want your solicitor’s bill to be relatively similar to the quotation). Ensure you have enough time to contact at least three “experts” for each question to check you’re getting the correct answer. I will write a post soon to point out what you need to know if you’re in a similar situation to us.
Setting up a company involves a lot of paperwork. Expect to send out / tell the “experts” the same thing numerous times. Having a patient and efficient accountant is essential too (thank goodness we have one of those). I know I’m not the most efficient with paperwork but at least I don’t pretend to be. I also discovered that praying to St Anthony works – even if you’re not Roman Catholic but desperate!
Oh, and another thing, if your bank holds your title deeds and you’re selling land to the company, make sure they have them. Our title deeds were (temporarily) in the possession of our previous solicitor. However, she had ceased trading in 2010, all our paperwork (including the title deeds) were sent to another solicitor who was closed down by the Law society. We eventually got around that but it caused a delay of a few weeks.
I do feel this whole company process hasn’t brought out the best in me. But I’m tired, I’ve had to fight too many battles on top of a busy calving season. (and for me to admit I’m tired, probably means I’m next to exhaustion to be honest – it’s not necessarily that I need lots more physical sleep but we both need a break from it all). I haven’t cried yet but last Friday, I wasn’t far from tears of anger and frustration. I decided to kick some ass instead though!
Other Factors Increasing Stress
It never rains but it pours. The week that we completed (we completed on 13th and the deadline for the BPS application was 16th so I was determined we were going to be finished by then), three more businesses cause more stress. Our car broke down for the fifth time (and when it breaks down, it stops very quickly. I was furious as I’d been driving on the motorway the day before). ESB had outsourced work to a company to replace poles on our land. Apart from driving too fast around the yard and making a mess in some fields, they also failed to replace a fuse properly which resulted in the electricity going off during milking one evening and the next morning we discovered that the tank hadn’t cooled the milk properly and it had to be dumped. Between loss of milk (we weren’t insured for this) and the electrician callouts, it was a financial loss of €1000. They will be compensating us but were slow to admit they were at fault. Now, I’m generally quite relaxed but these were the straws that broke the camel’s back and I really flipped.
At least you can tell when a cow doesn’t like you and aims her excrement at you when being milked!
The fact that I’ve been sore across the shoulders and need more sleep shows me that I’m at the mental burnout stage. And I should have shares in Cadbury’s chocolate the amount I’ve consumed in the last two months!
How to Relieve The Stress
The Farmers Journal and Agriland have been publishing articles suggesting ways to reduce stress and help with mental burnout. Yes, they contain what you would expect – meet up with friends, talk to others, involve a family member in decision making, make time for a hobby, make sure you get at least one day off a week so you can think outside the box and recharge your body and mind. All reasonable suggestions that do contain common sense. However, what bugs me is that as a farmer with mental burnout, it seems to insinuate that it’s my own fault because I’m working long hours without making time to meet with friends. The reality is that most dairy farmers will be stressed at the moment. For example, the low milk prices (we received €5K less for our April milk than last year and we’re milking an extra ten cows this year) yet the CEOs of the dairy processors are still getting their huge salaries and bonuses, most board members aren’t taking a cut in pay (to my knowledge, the only one to reduce fees is Dairygold with a cut of 10%). Yes, the IFA shafted us up to last November too and as far as I can make out, aren’t doing much to make it up to us either. All they are doing is asking banks to be more considerate to farmers. Honestly, if I believed in voodooism, I’d probably be giving it a go as I feel I can’t do anything else about the “big guys”. However, neither newspaper is looking at milk processors as a significant factor. There is no sense that the processors (or the IFA for that matter) are planning on sharing any of the pain. In fact, more and more articles on how we can cut costs are downright patronising.
My hobbies for helping me relax are reading, writing, meeting friends, getting out on a Sunday afternoon and going for a cycle. I went for a cycle of ten miles with my son a few Saturdays ago. Brian was late milking so I decided to do the calves when I came back which was 8pm. Something went wrong (I can’t even remember what) and I didn’t get back inside until 11:30 that evening. I had planned to go for a cycle on Sunday but feeling that I’d been bludgeoned meant I opted for a nap instead. To be honest, if anyone had suggested to me during March or April that I needed to get out for a coffee, I’d probably have buried them under the patio quite happily. Suggesting taking time out when someone is overworked means that you might stress them out even more. Knowing that six hours of work is waiting for you when you get back at 5pm from whatever you are doing isn’t going to make you relax, I can assure you.
These are my ideas for relieving stress:
- Stay clear of those with no common sense – which means most professionals.
- Spend more time with animals – at least you can tell immediately when they decide to send excrement in your direction.
- Write – I’m hoping writing this blog post will be cathartic! I’m about 10,000 words behind on my target for my third book but I had a brilliant idea on Tuesday morning for it and it was amazing how much better I felt. I still wanted to go to bed at 10pm but the pain in my shoulders disappeared.
- Don’t put up with any crap although admittedly the battles can take huge amounts of energy but I don’t tend to let anyone get away with it. My only comfort is that by being a thorn in their side, I’ll cause them more pain than they are doling out to me.
- We really need a few days away (Brian is exhausted too) so hopefully that will happen once breeding season is over.
- If I was a smoker, I’d have been chain smoking. If I drank alcohol (drink very little) I’d probably have had a hangover every morning. I have increased my chocolate and cake consumption and while it helps, probably isn’t a long term solution! Putting it down as a company expense might help! And don’t believe anyone who says chocolate won’t help – I assure you it does!
- Don’t read any more articles on how to relieve stress. Total waste of time. Use your own common sense instead. In fact, steer clear of reading farm newspapers that use hype in their headlines. They exist to sell newspapers but won’t make you feel any better.
- Try and see the silver lining in every situation. It’s there, I promise you. It might take a while to find it but it’s always there. Get out and walk when the sun shines – it definitely helps.
When I’ve recovered and am able to write about it all in a more coherent manner, I’ll have a go at writing a post based on the more factual things you need to know about transferring to a company – ie what it will cost you, what paperwork you will need, things to consider regarding staying a sole trader or forming a company, the nuts and bolts of it all.
If you are a stressed farmer, how are you coping? What are your tips?