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More than Dirt: Does your operation need a specialty coach? More farmers are bringing in coaches and joining peer groups to build on their success.

Mike Downey, Farm business consultant

April 3, 2024

3 Min Read
Three farmers standing in field at sunset
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We’re in the final heat of March Madness. Many teams fought hard in recent weeks but didn’t advance to the next level. A full year of practice, hard work and teamwork with the right coach on your side can make the difference between winning and losing.  

This was one of my takeaways from the 2024 Farm Futures Business Summit earlier this year. More and more farm operations are interested in outside coaching and collaborating with others to help them improve and advance to the next level.

Farmers are entrepreneurs. And most successful entrepreneurs in the business world have similar things in common. Some of these include participating in mentorship peer group programs with one-on-one performance coaches.

This may sound a little far-fetched to the farming world. But as farm operations become more progressive and production agriculture more complex, it may not be as far-fetched as you think.  

John C. Maxwell is a well-respected leadership coach who talks about the Law of the Lid. Even the McDonald’s restaurant franchise fell victim to this theory, which basically states the success of an organization will never excel beyond the ability of its owners to effectively lead and make an impact on its business. The well-known book, Traction, speaks to the Entrepreneurial Operating System. It warns you cannot build a successful organization that lives beyond the owners if it is designed to crumble the minute you step aside.

I have fallen guilty of this myself in my consulting business. I had reached a point where I needed additional resources, and to a certain extent, it was limiting my own growth. I broke through these barriers after joining a mentorship program and surrounding myself with other like-minded individuals. Everyone in the group held each other accountable and challenged growth with actionable follow-up tasks to further our development.

Issues that drive farmers to seek coaching and peer groups are as varied as the operations themselves. For instance:

  • A smaller 1,000-acre row crop operation with a large custom spraying business seeks help and guidance related to human resources and safety compliance for its hired employees.

  • A midsized 2,000-acre specialty crop operation wants to figure out how to be more profitable at their current size.

  • A 5,000-acre operation needs to restructure their entities to get the next generation more involved in the farm.

These are just a few of the areas where a farm business may need additional resources. Others could include strategic planning, financials, human resources, management skills, technology, managing equipment and machinery costs, carbon credit programs, FSA programs, risk management strategies, landlord lease relationships or tax planning and accounting.

Where could your operation benefit from management expertise in a specific area? Could you benefit from a coach? If any of the above resonates, I think you probably know the answer. Personally speaking, it not only improved the effectiveness of my business, but also the quality of my work-life balance.  

Downey has been consulting with farmers, landowners and their advisors for the last 24 years. He is a farm business coach with UnCommon Farms and also facilitates family farm transitions. Reach Mike at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Mike Downey

Farm business consultant, Uncommon Farms

Mike Downey is a farm business coach and transition consultant with UnCommon Farms. His passion for helping farmers stems from his own farm roots, growing up on his family’s grain and livestock farm near Roseville, Ill. He is also co-owner of Iowa-based Next Gen Ag Advocates which facilitates a unique matching and mentoring program between retiring and incoming farmers. He and his wife are also the founders of Farm Raised Capital, an investment community for farmers and ag professionals with common interests in diversifying through alternative off-farm real estate investments. Reach Mike at [email protected].   

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