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When things don’t go as planned on the farm

Contingency planning helps leaders act flexibly, confidently.

On the farm, as in any business or organization, there are times when – despite all our best planning – something just doesn’t go the way we thought or hoped.

As leaders, we know this will happen to us in our business at some point – perhaps even multiple times in the same day! Since we can’t control all the factors that impact our business, it’s helpful to first accept the fact that things won’t always go the way we want them to.

What separates leaders isn’t their ability to achieve a plan, it’s the ability to be prepared to adapt once they get new information.

Think flexible

Consider working through the concept of contingency planning. First, think about the outcome you want to achieve. Maybe you want all corn acres to ideally be planted by a certain date. Then, work backward from there through everything that will need to be accomplished – and by when – in order to achieve that target.

This is your Plan A, or ideal outcome with ideal timeframes. But we know that much of what we deal with in life is outside our direct control. The “backup plans” we create aren’t because we don’t think Plan A will work or even that we aren’t confident in our ability to adjust on the fly – it’s so we can act more quickly when we need to.

When we build our contingency plans, there’s no need to get too specific – but you might make a list of the different factors or circumstances that could throw your ideal plan out the window. This isn’t to try to focus on everything that could go wrong, but more to prepare your mindset to think flexibly about the possible factors that could place things on a different track.

Then, choose a couple of those scenarios to make a few alternative plans. You might choose a few situations that you think have the greatest chance of occurring. Ideally, you’ll never have to use these contingency plans – it’s more about taking time to think through a couple of them.

Think of these as “If, Then Plans.” Break the elements down and think through: “OK, if “this” happens, “then” I will…”  This has been proven out in studies of long-distance truckers. The safest drivers didn’t get that way because of their quick reflexes – they were continually running “if, then” scenarios in their minds as they drove.

Think logical

By preparing your mindset and plans, you’re better equipped to think logically and take flexible action when the situation calls on you to do so. Otherwise, it’s easy to be caught flat-footed and on a tight timeline with no idea what to do.

Under time pressure and other pressures, making a hasty or emotional decision becomes more likely. When reflecting later, we might think we wouldn’t have made that particular decision if we had already thought about alternatives ahead of time.

Here are some areas of your operation where you may want to use a step by step contingency planning process: peak season operations, growing season decision-making, grain marketing, grain merchandising and logistical planning, human resources planning, and in preparation for lender and landlord meetings.

Contingency planning for all critical areas of a farm business is key – and helps a farm leader act flexibly and logically in the heat of the moment when things don’t go as planned. You can talk with an advisor for the farm for more on getting contingency plans in place for key areas of your operation, including grain marketing and merchandising.

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

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