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Prepare the farm’s future leader

Get a plan together to provide opportunities for the next generation.

Darren Frye

November 14, 2022

4 Min Read
Three farmers talking in field at sunset
Getty/iStockphoto

The places where the farm leader spends his or her time and the types of activities they need to do each day has changed quite a bit over the past few generations. As time goes on and farm operations become larger and more complex, the farm’s leader or CEO will continue to spend a larger percentage of their time on business, management and financial activities.

I’ve heard it said that the key is when you’re preparing someone for the future, you want to focus on preparing the person rather than preparing the path. Since we can’t completely know what the farm or the operating environment will be like in the future, we need to focus on building the right skills, attitudes, and knowledge into the future leader themselves rather than trying to make the farm a certain way or attempting to control the future operating environment at large (which would be impossible anyway).

Where are they?

Now think about the next generation on your farm – and especially the person you think will likely be the farm’s next leader. Where do they currently spend their time in the operation? What are they doing in the day-to-day? What are they actively learning?

Is the next generation spending most of their time on leadership activities or more on production-related activities? It’s ok if the percentage is aligned more toward production activities, especially if it likely will be many years until they’re leading the operation. But the key is to gradually shift that percentage toward leadership activities so they can be prepared when it comes time to lead.

The current leader and future leader can work together to create a plan that includes all the different areas where the future leader will need to be well-versed. Then they can plan to include a mix of different opportunities to learn those skills and areas.

Train the next farm leader

Here are a couple areas to make sure to include in the future leader’s training plan.

  1. Financial literacy. The farm leader of the future will need to not only “speak the banker’s language” but also be able to prepare and present financial plans for the operation potentially to landlords, multiple lenders and others. You will want them to not only learn this information but also put it into direct practice through attending all lender and landlord meetings – at first to just shadow and observe you. Gradually, they need to be taking a bigger and bigger role in those meetings until they’re the one primarily leading and presenting.

  2. Business thinking. Another skill of the future farm leader will be thinking as a CEO and being able to identify and size up opportunities for the operation. This skill may come more naturally to some personality types than others – but it can also be honed through observing, interacting and bouncing ideas off of other people who are skilled in it already. You might send your future leader to business conferences or other groups where business owners and leaders spend time together. This will help get them thinking in different ways. It could even be helpful to send them to events or conferences that aren’t necessarily ag-focused, so they can collect insights from business leaders in other industries.

  3. Marketing skills. The farm leader of the future will probably also spend a greater percentage of their time on marketing, because it’s such a major business driver for the operation. Future farm leaders need to be knowledgeable about different market tools and how to create solid plans. If you don’t already work with a market advisor, you may want to start so you can get your future leader more involved in marketing. The advisor can act as a teacher for your future leader as the younger generation becomes more involved.

Get perspective on the market

Farmers have also found that working with 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.waterstreetconsulting.com.

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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