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Who's helping you manage your farm operation?

Not all consultants are created equal

June 26, 2016

4 Min Read

It goes without saying that the agriculture of today is not your father’s farming. Whether it is the sheer escalation in equipment costs, land values, or simply the input costs to produce any commodity, those who never grasped that farms needed to be operated as businesses first, while doing our best to enjoy or maintain the “lifestyle” aspect associated with it, are likely no longer working in the industry.


We can have the “Is a farm a lifestyle or business?” debate all day long, but at the end of that day, if the books don’t balance and income doesn’t cover expenses… we have a problem.  It has often been said that 90% of small businesses fail in their first year. While the reasons for this are many, the first role of any business manager, or leader for that matter, is to define reality for those around them. In my years as an Extension agricultural agent in Outagamie County, I have found that sometimes the best thing anyone can do when addressing a difficult circumstance or challenge is to invite the opinion of an unbiased, third party… to help define reality for those around them. There is a word we use to describe individuals who offer such opinions…consultants.

Now, anyone can go online or down to the coffee shop and get free advice, so, I suppose anyone could be termed a “consultant”, right?  Perhaps what we need to do is add the word “professional” to our equation, now we are on to something. The concept is simple enough… you may trust a friend or family member with advice about any number of things in any given day, but I would be willing to bet that there are just as many items where the idea of having a professional involved may help provide a more clear assessment of the situation at hand.  The difference between a consultant and a professional consultant is that the professional consultant can probably offer up credentials, certifications, or trainings they have participated in that provide them with a particular skill set that separates them from the general public. As a result, when you have a specific problem, requiring a specific answer, it is the professional consultant who will bring you closer to fulfilling those areas of need.  In Wisconsin, there is a professional association for these particular consultants involved in the agricultural industry… the Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants… also known as WAPAC.

What does this have to do with my farm operation?

Farming today requires more specialization than ever. Whether we are talking about changing nutrient management guidelines that factor into how many animal units and acres a single operation may need to remain economically and environmentally viable, or simply the idea of needing to understand cost of production for each acre of corn you plant when prices can fluctuate from $7/bushel to $4/bushel all in the course of a calendar year. This is where an organization like the Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants can help. WAPAC is a statewide association that maintains a membership of more than 100 professional agricultural consultants representing numerous disciplines in agriculture including farm management, animal nutrition, and the largest contingent of our membership… agronomy. 

While we all know dairy is king in Wisconsin, those cows don’t exist in a vacuum… there are a lot of different aspects that need to be considered from what goes in the front end of that bovine to what comes out the back side, and everything in between. Many of us do not like change, but we must remember that change is the only constant. Change at times can seem especially challenging for those involved in agriculture. As a result, the need to bring in an unbiased, third party professional consultant may be the stage that your farm operation is currently at.  If this is the case, I can tell you that UW-Extension has a ton of resources designed to help producers. Personally, I consider myself a professional consultant in the areas of crops, soils and horticulture since that is my specialization as an agricultural agent. If you are looking for more information about UW-Extension agricultural resources you can visit http://www.uwex.edu/ces/ag/.  However, I can also tell you that I have partnered with numerous certified professional crop consultants who work with producers not only in Outagamie County, but the state of Wisconsin as a whole. I have seen firsthand the positive impact each of these individuals can have on a farm operation. 

To learn more about WAPAC, or find a professional agricultural consultant in your area, visit http://www.wapac.info/ .

At the end of the day, whether we work in the public sector as I do, or the private sector as many of the members of WAPAC do, we all have the same mission…providing professional, unbiased advice to the hard working producers of Wisconsin so that they may continue to manage environmentally and economically sound farm operations long into the future. On Wisconsin!

Jarek is the Outagamie County Extension crops, soils and horticulture agent.

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