This morning I read an article about a man who quit smoking and took up athletics at the age of 90.

Last week, at 92, he won the grand masters 100m sprint in the 90-94 years category. He was not a man who had previously exercised much and had spent more time in the pub than the gym. So why is this story relevant to a farming column?

This bloke was able to make a significant lifestyle change at 90, proving it is never too late to look at life from a different perspective or learn a new skill.

Anyone who knows me knows that I bang on about change and lifelong learning a fair bit. Learning is probably the thing that keeps me going from day to day and is the thing I most love about agriculture. We will never know it all, but we can choose to learn something new every day.

In February, I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak at the (self-funded) Northumberland Grazing Group. I managed to tie it in with a trip to Edinburgh for the rugby so we left early and drove the six hours down to a pub off the A697 (Jason’s face lit up on seeing the number of real ales on tap).

My fellow speakers were a well-known Scottish podcaster and a local member of the grazing group who gave us a detailed account of his hobby – digging out tunnels used during the war in France. I have not laughed so much in a long time. It was the perfect example of what a really good farm meeting can be, and only half of it was actually about farming.

We were generously hosted that night by friends who are part of the group and we left Northumberland feeling invigorated and positive about farming.

That meeting was a really good reminder to me of just how much I love being in a room with interesting and interested people and how good it is for the soul to have a really good belly laugh.

After the flurry of conferences and events in January and February, for many farmers the last few months have been a time of head down, bum up. Calving and lambing take up time and energy, and the opportunity to get off farm, read articles or listen to podcasts is limited. Some crops are still going in as I write and arable farmers will draw a sigh of relief to finally be done.

With the busiest days behind us we look forward to events like Scotsheep and the Royal Highland Show. I’ve also noticed the calendar brimming with other local events and meetings.

I plan to be at Scotsheep this week – though a collie in hot pursuit of a lamb failed to spot me and slammed into my knee, leaving me a bit of a wreck. I’m still hoping to limp my way around with the aid of Lawson Hospital’s last set of crutches.

It’s so easy to make an excuse not to go to something. Too busy, too tired, too far, too expensive. But when I look around at some of the most successful farmers I know, they often talk about the importance of staying curious, embracing learning and, when necessary, change. And when I say ‘successful’ that success is not limited to financial performance alone, but includes a happy and balanced off-farm life and a business that is sustainable – for the people who work in it and the land it is farmed on.

Investing in time off-farm is nearly always time well spent. Even if you don’t come away with any new technical knowledge, maintaining and creating networks and connections is just as important. As someone who didn’t grow up here, I had to make new networks at 25. I’m really not sure how I would have done that without agricultural events and opportunities.

Starting with local farm meetings, we later became a monitor farm and I went on to do the Scottish Rural Leadership Programme and, more recently, a Nuffield scholarship. The friends and subsequent WhatsApp groups created by these networks are absolutely invaluable to me. Sometimes I’m looking for honest feedback, or some sound business advice, but just as often it is a bit of craic to lift the spirits on a dull day.

Hopefully a meeting or event can challenge you to see something from a different perspective and that challenge to your mindset is a good thing. Embrace it. With so many changes coming down the pipeline towards us, those businesses that can adapt quickly will be on the front foot.

Continued learning has made our business more profitable and resilient.Aside from improving our business skills, there is plenty of good evidence to show there is a direct link between an active mind and a reduced risk of dementia. Learning itself is also linked to improved mental health and wellbeing.

It is often hard to physically get off the farm, particularly if you have caring responsibilities or are geographically distant from events. I have often mused that for all the devastation it caused, Covid had some beneficial outcomes, particularly for rural communities. Prior to Covid, there was an expectation that everyone would just travel.

I distinctly remember being in Holyrood and told that in order to influence change you needed to be in the room. It was a comment made by someone from the central belt, totally oblivious to the challenges of our group which included people from Mull, Ullapool and Uist. When I asked why these particular meetings were not available via video link, the answer was ‘the technology wasn’t there yet’.

It ‘got there’ pretty quickly once Covid made it necessary.

Some would argue that we’re all a bit ‘zoomed out’ these days, but there is no doubt online meetings and webinars have greatly improved the opportunity to learn. We don’t have kids, so in theory it is easier to get away, but I run a B&B in the summer and that is a tie. Being able to dial into a webinar allows me to scratch that learning itch without leaving home.

If you feel as though your area doesn’t have enough learning opportunities, there is nothing to stop you from organising your own event. It doesn’t have to be formal – you can make it what you like. I highly recommend asking the tunnel-digging man from Northumberland along – plenty of laughs guaranteed.

So, my challenge to you this year?

Try to get off-farm to a meeting or event every month. It doesn’t have to be related to agriculture – you just need to learn something new. If leaving home is too hard, then sign up to an online webinar.

And if you are like me and never need much of an excuse to go to something, then my challenge to you is to take someone with you every time. Preferably someone who can usually find a reason not to leave the farm as they will most benefit from a day out.