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Motto of the best farm leaders: Never stop learning

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Three ways to create a culture of learning on the farm.

If you ask just about any farmer whether they want to improve their farm operation, they’ll probably tell you yes. Farmers have an innate desire to succeed – to not only farm but to farm well.

The real question then becomes how to actually achieve the goal of a better farm operation. There are any number of ways to go about making improvements to your operation. But from what I’ve seen among the farming operations I’ve worked with during the past 25 years, top operations tend to have one thing in common.

What do they do?

They never stop learning. They continually seek to learn more – not just about agronomic or technology-related topics, but about the other areas that impact their business. I’m thinking about learning around economics, finance, management and marketing, to name a few.

These farmers don’t ever think they’ve “arrived.” They don’t settle and say, “I’ve learned enough, so I’m done now.” They know that what they’ve learned in the past won’t necessarily get them to where they want to go in the future. They’re constantly seeking to become more knowledgeable on a variety of topics that affect their farm business. They view everything that happens as a learning opportunity.

This “learning mindset” can take the farm leader – and the operation – to unexpected places. It can help reveal areas where there are gaps in current knowledge. Then there’s an opportunity to do something about it, rather than settle for “less than hoped for” results.

Create it

How can you prioritize a learning mindset both for yourself as the farm leader and for others in your operation? Here are a few ideas on how to build a culture of learning on your farm.

  1. Look at yourself first. Start by considering your current level of openness to growth and learning in your own role as the farm’s leader. When you become aware of a personal growth opportunity, what’s your typical response? Seek out the right resources and knowledge in whatever aspects you become aware of. Often, our response to uncovering something we need to learn more about can be to become defensive. But in that case, we go nowhere and gain nothing by refusing to be open to learning and change.
  2. Start the building process. Creating a culture of learning in your operation takes time and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run. Beginning with yourself is important, and then it’s time to assess learning opportunities for your employees. Find out what each one is interested in learning more about that benefits the farm. Another critical aspect is what happens when mistakes are made, as they certainly will at some point. Use employees’ mistakes as opportunities for teaching rather than reacting negatively in the moment. This demonstrates to employees that, on your farm, continual learning is more desirable than never making a mistake.
  3. Take a step. What is one thing that you as a farm leader need or want to learn more about for your farm business? If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, ask someone you trust for their feedback. Then make it a priority this winter to pursue learning more about it. One area many farmers often say they want to learn more about is how to create clear, dynamic marketing and merchandising plans for their operation. You can take a step toward a better understanding of that this winter by talking with our market advisors.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 
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