Will the farm be profitable for the next 30 years?
The outstanding young farmers that I meet in my travels provide great stories and hope for agriculture’s future. This month I’ll be meeting with a group of young dairy farmers in the Okanagan as a followup to a meeting with their parents last winter.
Both generations on the farm are typically very hard working. I get lots of insights on what other young farmers might be thinking when I listen to the young farmer, our son, at our kitchen table.
Last night we were chatting about “sub-soiling” because the excess water on the Prairies has been tough for many folks who didn’t get a crop in, can’t get the crop out and are having severe cash flow crunches.
I think Morris Dorosh in his “If you ask me” column in Agriweek on September 20 really nailed this year when he said, “It takes nerves of tool steel to get through an experience like this without long-lasting effects. The strain on families and personal relationships is extreme, a test of character that most people never have to pass.”
The Outstanding Young Farmer Awards announcements are glowing reports of young couples who possess strong character. They have “gotten ready” to do well in their chosen field.
In coaching terms this means they have looked at what skills they need to learn, experimented and done some networking. Their character usually reflects confidence, the ability to take risk, great communication skills, creativity and the ability to explore new skill sets and ways of thinking.
Are you confident that you can manage a profitable farm for the next 30 years?
After the roller-coaster ride of 2010 weather issues can you manage risk?
How are your communication skills on your farm team at those regular farm business meetings you need to be having?
What new skill sets do you need to develop over the winter to take on the new challenges of 2011?
How much time have you spent “just thinking” about what you want the farm business to look like after the stresses of this year? Is it time for a new vision?
You might have to take off those negative filters, and ask for help with a strong team of financial advisers.
Our son is learning about “sub-soiling” at university where he is passionate about the amazing network of other crop managers that he interacts with. The award-winning young farmers tell me that one of the highlights as an “Outstanding Young Farmer” award is the fact that they get to return yearly for alumni events. The networking continues to flow ideas and plans for change back to their profitable operations.
Part of the “Getting ready to be a great farmer” also involves trying on new roles as possibilities, and not moving into long-term decisions. Many young farmers are ready to take over the management reins before senior management (read Dad) is ready to let go. Some of the new roles to test out might be working for a different style of leader away from the main business, or doing joint ventures with non-family members.
After a few harvests, young farmers with passion and vision want more certainty. They want signed operating and partnership agreements, which move them to shareholder agreements and some terms of ownership. Great farmers understand the value of turning the “sweat equity” of the younger generation into shares of the company. Great farmers value the wealth that is captured and protected with the energy of youth.
Once the “getting ready” phase has lit the passions for growth in agriculture, young farmers are “ready to go for it.”
Here’s a list of what young farmers have told me they want:
- A life. Time with family is really cherished, and they don’t want to work as hard as their parents have. As entrepreneurs they know 80-hour-plus weeks, but they will take time for fun and family. Their social life may look different than yours.
- Certainty. They get tired of living in limbo or what William Bridges calls “the neutral zone” where decisions for legal agreements and transition of residence are continually put off.
- Opportunity to choose. When the younger generation comes home from the oilpatch or college they have new ways of looking at the farm operation. It helps for them to have an enterprise that they can call their own. It’s really hurtful to a young farmer’s pride and self-esteem when folks assume that they have been “handed everything by Dad.”
- To be heard. Young farmers want to know that their opinion counts. They appreciate non-judgmental listening, and open-ended questions laced with curiosity and not communication killers. “What would you like me to do differently?” is a good place to start with both generations giving an honest answer.
- Social connection. Workaholic dads have issues with lack of relationships, so they work. Young farmers are on Facebook, Twitter, AgChat, and texting their farmer friends while they work. Young farmers need their networks and social time beyond the farm gate.
- A skilful spouse. The award winning Outstanding Young Farmers typically are a couple who pull in the same direction with shared vision and passion. Their marriages are strong and have a high priority.
- They want to use their head more than their back. Young farmers have grown up “wired.” They have no fear of technology, and just keep pressing buttons until they figure things out. Their “techie” skills come in handy for setting the grain monitors, auto steer and helping figure out the GPS.
They have no problem using ag software, the BlackBerry or the Palm Pilot to track records. You should train them to do the books and tracking. This means letting go of some power and control, and seeing the opportunity for a really well-trained business planning team. They’ll design your new website, and maybe even get you blogging!
- To be globally smart. Young farmers like to travel and learn about global agricultural issues, but let’s be realistic. Advocates need to pay attention to the details they’re managing in their own farm businesses. These young farmers can’t be off the farm for four days of meetings, so try to think of ways to meet virtually with phones, computers, and pre-meeting PowerPoint presentations. The energy of youth and management responsibilities need to be considered when agricultural policy leaders expect the same old way of policy planning in person. Women will be involved if they don’t have child-care issues, so webinars are a great tool for communication without leaving the farm.
Congratulations to all the young producers who are getting ready to be great farmers in their farm business team!