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Corn+Soybean Digest

Be a Contrarian


Doing things the way they’ve always been done provides comfort and confidence. Today’s environment, however, is sorting out those who refuse to adapt to change.

Today’s speed of information, change and improvement provides the perfect platform for what I call the contrarian farm leader. Not to be confused with the obstinate, stubborn or headstrong – the contrarian thrives by focusing on the problem at hand and looking for new and better ways of solving it – regardless of how it’s been done in the past or what the neighbors think.

Farming has so much tradition and knowledge passed from one generation to another that often the principles – which are good to pass on – get lost in the habits of “how things are done.” The consequence of those habits is our autopilot mode that can keep us from improving our results as quickly as others around us.

Most major changes come from people outside the industry, research shows. Outsiders haven’t yet learned what can’t be done. They look at problems and opportunities from a fresh perspective without hearing the words of grandpa saying auto-steer is a waste of money or a neighbor saying no-till won’t work.

The contrarian doesn’t look for reasons things won’t work. He focuses on the objective at hand. He re-evaluates how things have been done in the past and looks for what will address the problem.

I talked with a client recently who’s continually improved yield and profitability through changes on his farm. He’d hear skeptical, doubtful remarks from neighbors questioning some of the changes he made to his tillage and fertility practices. As a contrarian, he was encouraged because he knows that the people refusing to make changes and learn new things won’t be able to compete with him in the long run.

How do you spot contrarian thinking? The contrarian does a great job of flipping the view around from the conventional approach. Conventional – get the crop in the ground fast; Contrarian – I’m going to get the crop in right, not just fast. Conventional – I need to minimize my taxes; Contrarian – I’m willing to pay more taxes if it’s the right thing for my farm long term. Conventional – buy inputs as cheaply as I can; Contrarian – how much more value can I get if I pay a higher price?


  1. Think of five things you “know are so” because A) it happened to you once, B) an older generation said so, C) a neighbor told you.
  2. Identify what the core problem is to be solved.
  3. Start digging into those beliefs by trying to prove yourself wrong. Research them. Find others with more expertise or experience.

The process of trying to prove yourself wrong will lead to one of two things – more confidence in what you believe or a new and better way. 

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