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Top farm leaders should never stop learning – ever.

Darren Frye, CEO

August 16, 2021

3 Min Read
Textbook with colorful sticky notes marking pages.

At this point in the summer, many students are preparing to return to school – or maybe some have already started their new school year. It’s an exciting time that can also come with some anxiety or worry around changes and transitions to come.

One thing is for sure: Learning will be taking place once again. The key for students in school – whatever grade or stage of schooling they’re in – is to continue moving forward and making progress in what they’re learning. They and their teachers strive to help them advance to the next level of whatever they are working to master.

Beyond a rookie

As a farm leader, the key is to be a student as well – of your own operation, of ag and of ag business. And just like a school-age student, you want to keep advancing in your knowledge and practice of farming as well. To put it another way, you don’t want to be ten years into your farming career and feel like you’ve simply repeated your rookie year of farming ten times!

To advance beyond that rookie year takes some reflection and planning in terms of what you need to learn more about and how you’ll seek to do it. It also takes an open mind – a “beginner’s mind” – to keep questioning, keep looking for new ideas and approaches and keep wanting to learn and improve so that your operation can improve too.

Keeping an open mind around what you can learn next gives your operation a true sustainable competitive advantage. It’s true that the only way to get and maintain that advantage is to learn faster and adapt more quickly in your farm business. The more open you are to learning and the faster you can learn, the more opportunity your farm will have to be competitive in the long run.

Three areas to build

Here are three different areas farmers can focus on continually learning and getting better – that also help the farm business.

  1. Build business skills. Running a farm operation today requires the farm leader to know more about running a business than ever. Create a plan for how to sharpen your business skills, including learning more about business finances and the financial terminology your lender uses. Learn how to create financial statements, metrics, ratios and use them to help run your farm, if you don’t already. You can ask your lender or financial advisor for more ideas on what else might be good to learn.

  2. Build communication skills. Today’s farm leader spends more and more time managing other people and also working with different lenders, suppliers and advisors. Many farms also involve multiple generations of family members, so there’s family relationships in the mix too – which can bring an additional level of complexity. The one thing all these have in common is that the farm leader is constantly working with human beings and communicating with them. The trouble with communication is that even though we know what we said to someone, the fact is – we don’t know what they heard! Taking time to intentionally build communication skills is a must for farmers who want to advance both themselves and their operation.

  3. Build marketing skills. Growing a great crop is a crucial job of the farmer – and the next is to turn that crop into revenue for the operation. However, many farmers say that marketing their crop is one of the biggest headaches and sources of worry that they face. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Work with an advisor who also acts as a teacher to help you learn marketing tools, how to create more flexible plans that respond to market conditions and to work to become a more skilled marketer. You can get in touch with our market advisors or find a free two-week trial of our marketing information service at

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress


About the Author(s)

Darren Frye

CEO, Water Street Solutions

Darren Frye grew up on an innovative, integrated Illinois farm. He began trading commodities in 1982 and started his first business in 1987, specializing in fertilizer distribution and crop consulting. In 1994 he started a consulting business, Water Street Solutions to help Midwest farmers become more successful through financial analysis, crop insurance, marketing consulting and legacy planning. The mission of Finance First is to get you to look at spreadsheets and see opportunity, to see your business for what it can be, and to help you build your agricultural legacy.

Visit Water Street Solutions

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