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David Lee
INCLUDE EMPLOYEES: 2019 Master Farmer David Lee believes it’s important to treat employees as part of the operation and make sure they enjoy working there.

Master Farmers share keys to success working with people

This year’s Master Farmers share a penchant for hard work and dedication to working well with others.

How do you work with other people, including employees and family members, especially during challenging times? Jim Mintert posed this question to newly named Master Farmers during a panel discussion.

Mintert is a Purdue University Extension agricultural economist and director of the Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture. He moderated a panel discussion involving this year’s Master Farmers after they received their awards. The Master Farmers are Richard Law, Atlanta; David Lee, Salem; Ronnie and Sarah Mohr, Greenfield; and Roger and Mary Beth Wenning, Greensburg. The Honorary Master Farmer is Mark Sigler, chief operating officer and treasurer of Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. He and his wife live on the family farm near Frankton.  

The Master Farmer program is co-sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue College of Agriculture. The awards program and panel discussion were held in conjunction with the Indiana Farm Management Tour.

“It looks like all of you have been successful because of hard work over the years,” Mintert said. “You also each have a talent for working with and managing other people. What tips can you share that others could learn from when it comes to working with people in different capacities?”

Sigler: “Be humble — that’s the starting point. Ask yourself if you’re there to make things better for everyone. If you are, then you can work through challenges, trying to find agreements that work best for everybody.”

Law: “In our operation as we grew up working with Dad, I was 10 and 14 years older than my two brothers. We still farm together today. Starting out, we knew that we all wanted to farm, so we all needed to be able to work together. Our goal now is to make things work as well as they possibly can as we farm together.”

Roger Wenning: “Communication, communication, communication — that is what it’s all about. You need to talk to each other. At the same time, I’ve also learned a little secret along the way. It’s kind of like in your marriage — there are times when you must know when to keep your mouth shut!”

Lee: “We have four full-time employees today and our partner, our son-in-law, works with them most of the time. I believe they respect him because he gets out there and works with them; he doesn’t just tell them what to do and disappear. He’s right there pitching in, and they appreciate that he works alongside them.

“The other thing we try to do when talking with other people in businesses or the community is be careful how we talk about our employees. We purposely say they work ‘with us,’ not ‘for us.’ We want them to feel like they’re part of the operation and enjoy what they do. It’s been tough for anybody to enjoy this spring, but that’s our goal.”   

Ronnie Mohr: “We don’t have nonfamily employees. Everyone who works in our operation are family members. There are pros and cons to that arrangement, but it works for us. I told Sarah as our boys chose to come back that I didn’t want my boys to feel like hired hands when they were 40. We both wanted them to make their own decisions. Letting go is a tough thing to do. It’s not easy, but we keep working at it.”

Check back tomorrow to read more from this panel discussion.

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