Farmers: ‘trust your gut’

“How many times do you find yourself thinking about how can you make your farm more successful?” That’s a question from Lincoln University researcher Dr Peter Nuthall.

His answer lies in developing your ability to understand or know something based on your ​well-informed intuition.  

Dr Nuthall says farms are run on intuition every day: every farmer makes a myriad of decisions based on it. “Successful farm management is totally dependent on the quality of the farmer’s inherent intuition.”

He has written The Intuitive Farmer – Inspiring Management Success. It’s not a textbook, but a novel. It tells of Ben, who farms in rolling country in New Zealand, and some of his colleagues. Tom, a management researcher, guides a research programme in which the farmers take part. 

They face many management dilemmas universal to any farming system in any country. Successes and tragedies emerge from the farmer centred experiment, and a multitude of lessons. 

Farmers aren’t always the best at formal study, Dr Nuthall says, so the novel is a painless way to embed the lessons into a story about farmers and farming. “It is clear where efforts to improve intuition should be concentrated,” he says. 

“Self-reflection is critical, and also the critique of decisions and outcomes by friends and colleagues. Careful observation is also important, as is extensive experience and a knowledge of the technology. 

These three go hand in hand, and can all be improved with concentrated effort.” In conjunction with colleague Dr Kevin Old, he has recently released the results of a study into farmers’ intuition which used information from over 700 farmers of all types.

The variation in profit, and other output, was used to isolate key factors in intuition. At least 60 per cent of a farmer’s intuition is due to environmental aspects, in contrast to genetic influences. It is very likely the current farmers’ genetic base has evolved over the centuries, with the early farmers who exhibited successful intuition dominating and surviving. 

“A farmer’s intuition is the result of experience, training and the farmer’s ancestry. A novice farmer is at sixes and sevens. It is only after experience and training that decisions improve,” he says. 

“While many decisions are reached instantly through intuition, others use farmers’ mental analyses which, when combined with intuition, leads to a decision. It is only when the farmer has few ideas that formal study takes place. This leads to intuitive conclusions for use in the future.” 

Dr Nuthall estimated the contribution to success of the three important aspects of managerial ability. It was discovered planning ability contributes 4 per cent, plan implementation ability 20 percent and intuition a very significant 76 per cent.

He hopes farmers will find the book challenging, enjoyable, and potentially very beneficial.