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Farm leaders: Shift from “doing” to planning now

Identify biggest challenges, opportunities for 2019.

Many farms are entering a transitional time of year. Harvest is beginning to wind down, or may be complete. Fall field work is happening. Winter and the holiday season are approaching quickly.

For a farm leader, this is a time when we’re shifting our primary focus from “doing” to planning. The “doing” mode of harvest keeps us on the go, making sure everything on the to-do list is getting done properly and promptly.

Now, as we near the winter off-season, or perhaps more accurately, planning season, it’s a good time to intentionally start shifting gears. Start by getting a plan in place for your off-season time, to make it count the most for the 2019 crop year.

Plan the work

First, schedule office time to review 2018 and plan for 2019. It’s especially important to get future planning sessions on the calendar. Otherwise, that non-urgent brainstorming and planning work tends to get pushed off in favor of more urgent items – until it becomes an urgent item itself because springtime is swiftly approaching!

The next thing to do is review the past year. This means taking a close look at analyzing not only yields and fields, but also your farm’s overall key metrics like working capital, equity and debt ratios. Consider what your banker will likely talk and ask about, and prepare to be able to tell your farm’s “story” well.

It may be helpful to work with an advisor for the farm on your operation’s financial review. They can provide a third-party “outsider’s” view on what’s going on – suggesting particular areas to tweak for efficiency. They help as you hone in on the farm’s main levers for success.

Work to identify key business areas that make the biggest impact on your farm’s success. How can you shift your time and energy in 2019 to ensure you’re focusing more on what you’ve identified? For example, maybe you uncover that your operation would benefit from more focus on grain marketing and merchandising. Then you can create an action plan that might include steps like working with a trusted advisor to gain additional education.

Maybe you want to do a better job of monitoring and measuring key metrics for your operation throughout the year – for more real-time feedback on how the farm is doing. Setting aside some time this winter to work on that with your lender or financial advisor could bring real benefits in 2019.

Work the plan

Once you’ve chosen a couple important areas to work on in your business, make sure it’s a clear priority. As the leader, you need to concentrate on planning during the winter season, so try to offload other non-planning tasks to other people in your operation as much as possible. Enlist their help with planning too, especially any future leaders in the operation.

Remember that good plans have flexibility built in. An adaptive plan lets you respond quickly to changes in both the wider ag arena as well as internally in your own operation. Working on your plans with a flexible mindset from the start will help you when conditions change – as they surely will.

What do you need in order to get started on your 2019 plans? What is the biggest barrier or hurdle that you see for your operation in 2019? What is the area where you have the greatest opportunity to get better? What will make the biggest difference to your operation’s success? Who will you enlist to help you get solid plans in place?

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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