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February 12, 2024
As a farm leader, you’re used to getting things done – making sure all the work that needs to be completed in the operation is happening like clockwork. Because many farmers started their career working mainly on the production side, they got used to getting the work done themselves.
That can be a great way to begin as a young farmer. Getting all that hands-on experience is important because the farmer can learn how to do just about everything in terms of operations and labor. This is helpful for future farm leaders because they get a clear sense of the full operational picture and what it takes to get everything done.
Here’s what can happen, though, when that same farmer enters more of a leadership role in the operation. As the leader takes on more responsibility for management, they may still feel pulled toward all the operational tasks that they used to do – rather than the business and financial focus that their new role requires.
This is an instance where doing the same things that made them successful in their previous role probably won’t bring them and their farm success in their new leadership role. It takes a mindset shift away from working in the farm and more toward working on the farm business.
One thing that can help future aspiring farm leaders avoid this trap is to start working on building a business-focused mindset early on. Once you’ve identified someone as a future leader in your operation, you can start bringing them into the business decision-making little by little.
Here are a couple ideas for how to get started.
Have them shadow you and/or other leaders who are responsible for business decision-making in the operation. This begins as easily as taking them along to meetings with your lenders, landlords, business advisors, suppliers, etc. At first, they don’t need to participate much other than paying close attention, asking any questions, and debriefing with you after the meeting. You can talk with them afterward about what they observed, explain anything they have questions about, and discuss how you handled various topics and issues during the meeting. They can learn a lot this way – with the next step being giving them more involved specific roles or portions of the meeting to handle, while you’re still there to observe and help, if needed.
Carve out a certain area of the farm business and put them in charge of all decision-making for that area. You can begin this process slowly to help them build their confidence. They can start by shadowing your decision-making. Talk them through your thought process whenever you make a major decision. Then move on to asking them to take you through their thought process about a major decision that needs to be made. This can help you determine how much they already understand, and how they think. As both of you become more comfortable, you can hand them the decision-making bit by bit for that area, until they are fully responsible for that area. For that first area, choose something they are already reasonably comfortable with in terms of their experience and skill.
Farmers have found that getting some third-party perspective from our market advisors has helped ease their minds. The advisors help farmer clients with planning and execution around marketing decisions and help keep them up to speed on the current rapidly-changing grain market situation – and how it impacts their operation.
Get a free two-week trial of our marketing information service (MarketView Basic). Your free trial includes regular audio and video updates, technical analysis, recommendations and more. Learn more about our market advisor programs and offerings at www.waterstreetag.com.
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.
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