A farm management discussion turned philosophical at times when the Indiana Farm Management Tour visited Myron, Vern and Matt Schafer's farm near LaCrosse recently. Going beyond numbers and just explaining practices, some real words of wisdom crept into the conversation for others to think about.
A discussion about their enterprises on the farm prompted Vern, Myron/s brother and Matt's father, to talk about what he thought was important when deciding what type of activities to carry out on the farm. The Schafer's have a 75-cow commercial beef cow herd, even though they acknowledge that it's certainly not a profit center on the farm. In fact, Matt commented that gross receipts for the beef cattle operation make up under 3% of total gross receipts annually for the farm.
"Pick an enterprise that makes money but that you like to do," Vern begins. "If you don't like to do it, you likely won't be successful. And you probably won't be happy, no matter how much money you make.
"On the other hand, take our example. We know cows aren't the most profitable thing we do. But we like to do it. Our father started it, and we've had cows ever since. If it's something you like to do, you may be willing to stay with it longer than you would otherwise."
About a third of the calves they produce are sold locally fro freezer beef each year, matt notes. Problems with customers coming up with enough money to buy an animal have prevented them from enlarging that portion of the business to a larger extent. "I just like being known as the farmer around here who has cows," Matt says. "It's something that I enjoy."
Vern also had advice for those trying to manage together with one or more other partners in a family operation. "A lot of discussion goes into decisions around here," he notes. "You need a lot of compromise to make it work.
"One of the things that helps here vs. in the business world is that when we have a lively discussion, we can then all go our separate ways, doing different chores for the rest of the day. It gives us time to ponder ideas. We can often come back the next day, in a better frame of mind, and make decisions.
"It's relatively easy to be a sole proprietor. You make all the decisions. But you also have only one person to blame and nobody to bounce ideas off of.
"When you're managing with several people, somebody has to make decisions. Sometimes, you've got to see ti the other guy's way. Maybe it's his area of expertise, and he knows more about this area than you do."