Bringing in the next generation of farmers is a challenge and an opportunity. You're working to bring in a son or daughter, but looking for ways they can be contributing new income to the operation so everyone benefits. One area that could be an opportunity is new technology that can help you analyze the business and find new profit areas.
We posed that question to Kevin Spafford, Legacy By Design, and he offered some interesting insights on the topic.
Does technology provide an opening for a younger-generation farmer to contribute to the future success of an operation (provided the legacy generation recognizes the need for tech?)
Technology may be the perfect opening for a young next-gen farmer. Much like the senior generations, who may have been more comfortable with the combustion engine than their predecessors, the younger generation has a technological dexterity most older producers can’t replicate and won’t ever be able to develop.
Technology is the perfect place for a young producer to step in and make a significant and meaningful contribution to the continuing success of an operation. As I’ve written many times, the transition from parent to partner and from child to colleague is very difficult. Much of the stress in the transition is caused by overlapping duties and competing interests. The senior and middle generations aren’t inclined to give up responsibilities and recognize a next gen producer as an equal. They’re much more comfortable giving direction and maintaining control.
In ‘owning’ the technology space for the operation, a young person not only garners full responsibility for an important aspect of the operation, in a pseudo role-reversal s/he can give direction and exert some control. All of this helps the parties involved realize that complementary [read: opposing or dissimilar] skills and abilities are valuable to the operation. And, based on my experience, the senior and mid-generations welcome the help---especially in the form of improved efficiencies and better results.
With the rise of a range of cloud-based, decision making tools, how should a next-generation farmer approach data management with an eye toward “taking over some day?”
Generating a more prosperous outcome should be the responsibility of every employee, manager, and owner of the operation. People are brought into the organization to make a difference by either increasing income or decreasing expenses, or a combination of both. For those next-gen producers looking for where and how they can contribute to business success, technology is the clear answer.
In succession planning workshops and client engagements, we spend a lot of time exploring each generation’s vocational strengths, traits, abilities, and resources, or STARs. In those discussions, we encourage participants to self-discover what attributes each may bring to the overall management team. Not surprisingly, what participants usually find is that each has certain characteristics that make them valuable to the whole---that their separate STAR characteristics together make for a stronger whole.
For instance, STARs for the senior gen may include capital - i.e.: land, buildings, equipment, and money; experience - i.e.: years on the job, local history, economic cycles, and agronomic trends; and professional networks - i.e.: relationships with a variety of related professionals who will act as confidant, mentor, and guide.
Middle generation owners may bring communication skills, business acumen, and desire. And, the younger generation has technological dexterity. They have an almost innate ability to master technological advancements and integrate hi-tech solution without breaking a sweat. For them, utilizing technology is an opportunity to establish a place in the operation, contribute to organizational success, and learn how to ‘take over someday.’ In counseling aspiring next-gen producers, I recommend:
- Creating a written professional development plan focused on technological tools and techniques for farming.
- Focusing on learning methods that are both practical---for use on the farm today---and cutting-edge---with an eye toward the future.
- Pushing the limits of your ability and experience as much as possible on the technology front---network with others, attend seminars, participate in demonstrations, etc.
- Sharing what you’re learning and demonstrate your new found ability to understand and integrate improvements in the operation.
- Teaching others, especially the senior and middle generations, the benefits of technology and how hi-tech tools can improve the operation and enhance the bottom line.
Spafford notes that on the whole the 'legacy generation' does recognize the benefits of technology, yet resistance comes from the challenge of taking on one more thing new. "They may not know how to implement tech-based improvements, which creates both an opportunity and an obligation for an enterprising young person. Solving the technology divide and offering solutions is a place where next-gen farmers can have a significant impact."
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