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Farm business planning: Tool for the times

A thorough business plan developed with careful thought provides a roadmap to follow, particularly during uncertain times.

Recently, I gave my first ever virtual commencement address to the graduates of Farm Credit University's Ag Biz Planner program. As a veteran of in-person commencement addresses at schools and universities where the motto is to be brief, be funny and be seated, this experience was outside the box. Observing basketball great Steph Curry’s virtual address to spring graduates was helpful in my preparation. As part of the virtual graduation ceremony, the graduating producers were asked to share with the group how their business planning process has been useful in their specific situation.

One young couple quickly responded that conducting a SWOT analysis to identify business Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats was beneficial in their startup operation, particularly given the COVID-19 black swan environment. They were able to channel their energy and align with the markets that were consistent with their resources and talents.

Another family indicated that the business planning process jump started the family business transition. As a result of the homework assignments in the program, they were able to ask the senior generation, who were in their 80s, sensitive questions that were normally avoided. The senior generation was quite impressed by the depth and breadth of questions as the couple embarked on diversifying the business into new agricultural enterprises through the transition management.

Another couple indicated that developing a business plan provided confidence in borrowing capital and repaying debt, particularly as a startup without much experience. Financial and economic scenario planning in the COVID-19 environment was useful in monitoring financial progress as the economic environment has rapidly changed.

One of the big takeaways for one individual in a family business with multiple members was that business planning assisted in facilitating conversation and communication. He stated that no one talks to each other in his family business, which is unfortunately quite common in production agriculture. The goal setting process, filling out financial statements and completing a communication module each helped to close the communication gap between generations and partners.

Other graduates stated that the business planning process was extremely useful in growth associated with local markets created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some used the planning process to determine if “side gigs” that generate extra, diversified revenue were worthwhile.

Business planning is a tool for the times.

P.S.

Optical appeal is a new term for businesses that serve local markets. During a pandemic, this means wearing a mask and following safety protocols to assure and bring a sense of security to consumers.

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