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Farm’s next leader: Ready for marketing decisions?

A smooth handoff requires work up front – by both generations.

Whether you’re preparing someone else from the next generation to be the farm’s next leader, or if you are that person – it’s key to be planning for that leadership transition. It takes a lot of intentional effort on both sides for a smooth handoff, but it can be done.

Decisions, decisions

One piece of the leadership handoff puzzle on the farm are the types of decisions that the leader typically makes or has made in the past.

A decision-making area that’s important to gradually introduce and hand over are marketing plans and decisions. This can be a tough area for the farm’s current leadership to transition to the next leader – and for good reason: Marketing decisions make a big impact on the success of the entire operation.

Wherever you’re at in the leadership handoff process – it’s important to first assess where the next generation leader or leaders are currently at in their understanding of the markets in general, how to create a working marketing plan for the operation and in making marketing decisions.

The knowledge and experience of the next generation when it comes to grain marketing and merchandising could be very high or very low. Maybe the next leader worked in other off-farm jobs before, such as working at a grain elevator. Maybe they took college courses in grain marketing or have had other classroom-type training.

Three things to do

Here are a few ideas for setting up your training plan once you’ve determined what they currently know about marketing and what experience they’ve had (or not had) with planning and decision-making.

  1. First, meet them where they’re at. Take some time to simply sit down with them for a discussion about grain marketing. This isn’t to teach or train them yet, but to ask them what they know and how they feel about their current understanding and abilities around marketing. You can also ask what they want to learn more about specifically and gauge their interest. If you have multiple future leaders in your operation, this is a good opportunity to find out who might be best suited to eventually be responsible for marketing (it might not be who you initially think).
  2. Next, give learning opportunities. The right types of education for each future leader will be different depending on their current level of experience and knowledge. This could range from sending them to classroom-type training to working one-on-one with you and a trusted market advisor to create plans and make decisions to having them create their own “practice” marketing and merchandising plan for the upcoming crop year.
  3. Finally, offer some “skin in the game.” Once they have a good level of understanding and experience, figure out a way for them to be responsible for actually marketing a portion of grain – calling all the shots themselves. They can still come to you with questions or to bounce around ideas, but they ultimately must make the call. Meet with them periodically to discuss how things went, why they think they made the decisions they did and to just talk about their planning and decision-making process in general. This will give you insight into how they think about marketing and where they may need some additional education or guidance.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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