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Corn+Soybean Digest

Cultivate a New Mindset


For thousands of years, not much changed in agriculture. Farmers lived a subsistence life, happy to raise enough to feed their families and livestock and keep enough seed for the next year. In the past hundred years we have seen changes occur more frequently than could have ever been imagined. The horse is now the tractor. Open-pollinated corn became hybrid corn. The molecule replaced the cultivator. Even the “straight driver” has been unseated by satellite-controlled steering wheels.

Each of these changes has created winners and losers. We know the fate of those who didn’t embrace change. You’re probably farming their ground. The change we face today is different, though. What’s upon us is the push to change from farmer “doer” to farm “leader.”

We see the symptoms. Look at what people talk about and you’ll find a pattern of that change; peer networks, legacy conversations with family, understanding “millennials,” technology, building key supplier relationships, regulation compliance, managing labor and labor cost issues. The list goes on. You might think that these issues have always been around and that today isn’t much different, but I believe there is one factor that has made the role of farmer as leader reach a tipping point: consequences.

I was talking with a client in South Dakota about his farm planning. He has a great deal of respect for what the generations before him have accomplished, but he knows that if he doesn’t develop business planning skills today so he can lead and develop his farm for tomorrow – there won’t be a future farm. Change is occurring too quickly. Volatility is too great. Poor decisions cost too much. His time in the tractor is now invested in changing his mindset to focus on where he wants the farm to go. He is identifying the skills and resources needed to get there. He is finding people with those skills that he can plug into the operation. He is making sure everyone knows what’s expected of them as they all work toward the goal.

This new mindset isn’t about working harder to be successful. It’s definitely not about clinging to the past. The new mindset focuses on what we want to create, then coordinating the people and resources to get us there.

Assignment: Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left, list 10 things you do on the farm that you feel you are good at. On the right, list 10 things you do that cause frustration; things you feel you are not good at. Pick the top three most important to your farm from your frustration list. Now decide, do you invest the time to get good at these or find someone to bring that expertise to your farm. As a leader, if these are important and you’re frustrated – doing nothing is not an option.


Corn & Soybean Digest welcomes new Profits columnist Dean Heffta, senior director of development for Water Street Solutions in Peoria, Ill. Heffta will write about timely business management topics in this column each issue. Raised on his family’s farm in North Dakota, he worked with farmers across the Corn Belt on farm business consulting. A graduate of Drake University’s MBA program and the Iowa Corn Growers’ I-LEAD program, Dean helps clients sharpen their communication, business and personal effectiveness skills. For more information on Water Street Solutions, call 309-680-1200 or visit

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