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Winter is a great time to get rid of that terminal case of piles in your farm office. Someone once said that “clutter is a delayed decision”. My business consulting friend Stuart Morley of Ontario, wrote me a story from his observations in Africa, that I think might be an encouragement to you. My new office is making me more money with better systems in place. Beauty does create energy, so get to work after you read Stuart’s observations:

As a city kid, growing up in Africa I spent my holidays with friends who lived on farms. The farmers seemed to be the ones with cars, planes and tractors unlike us poor city folk. I figured all farmers were rich so I decided I would become a farmer.

However I was a little taken aback during my third year of my agricultural degree to find most farmers lived pretty poor. Some died rich but few lived and died rich. It was the early days of computers and to save costs for farmers and give us a project we needed for college we persuaded a group of about 30 farmers to give us their financial records and in return we would tell them how they were doing compared to the average. It kept the professor happy we had a project and we liked the idea of experimenting with computers plus on a hot day the only room that was air-conditioned was the computer room.

Once we overcame the usual concerns about confidentiality we found the farmers not only liked to see how they were doing but now wanted to visit the farms of those who were doing better than the average. Some wanted to see these farms because they suspected those doing better meant they were not counting all their costs and others wanted to find the secrets of how others were doing better.

We worked with the local farmer’s co-op to arrange several of these visits as this request was now getting outside our course curriculum and as students we were tempted to focus on passing exams rather than seeing the fruits of our analysis.

I was curious and decided to go on some of the farm visits. However after a while these visits became boring. I could not judge a good cow from a bad cow, or a great crop of corn from any other. As a city kid I could not tell if a tractor was properly maintained or the right size for the type of work. All of this knowledge seemed to be part of the DNA of the farmers and the other kids at university who tagged along. Many times I would land up in the farmer’s house having a cup of tea with the farmer’s wife and chatting about what was going on in the world rather than tour the farms. These successful farmers never asked for nor showed their records to other farmers. However I did notice some farmers had grand offices and others were almost a hole in the wall.

It was in my fourth and final year that I stumbled on a thesis that a doctoral student was working on where he was trying to find the correlation between the farmer’s profit and a number of other variables. It included the usual stuff like type of farming – where tobacco was thought to be more profitable than growing cotton, the size of farm, whether the farmer had irrigation and so the list continued. However the one item he added was the size and comfort of the farmer’s office. When he had done his work the only thing that was closely correlated to profit was the size and comfort of the farmer’s office. The size of office was easy to measure in terms of square feet, but for comfort he included a score according to whether the office had desks, chairs, phone, typewriter, filing cabinets, maps on the wall, couches and other items he thought the ideal office should contain. I was fascinated with this finding. How could a nice office generate a nice profit? Or did it mean you had to first make a nice profit and these folks then built the nice office?

As I went on farm visits in my fourth year I spent time comparing the farm office to the financial statements. My own informal observations confirmed this strange relationship but how to test it out?

When my girlfriend invited me to her family farm for the holidays I decided to watch her father, Martin, at work. He would get up and start work at 5 am and drive in the ‘bakkie’ (the name we used for the farm pick-up truck) to the various parts of the farm and allocate the duties to the workers. He would also stop by the shed to check which tractors the mechanic was working on and check the sheep and cattle pens and then head home for breakfast. After a hearty bacon and egg breakfast followed by a few cups of tea with the family, Martin would drive to the village to collect supplies and be back for lunch around noon.  As the weather was pretty hot at lunchtime, a few beers before lunch made sense and then a quick nap after lunch and back to check on the workers in the lands around 2pm. At about 3 pm it was tea time back at the farm house and at about 3.30 pm it was time to head to the office to do the paperwork.

The office was in a part of the house that caught the afternoon sun. The room was only slightly larger than a closet and sitting down at the desk made it hard to open or close the door because it was so small. Piled high on the desk was a ton of paper including invoices, newspapers, magazines, chemical recommendations for the crops and notes of things to do.

Sitting at the desk looking out the window was not easy with the hot African sun shining in your eyes. To the left and right of the desk were shelves with fishing tackle and various household repair items, screws and plugs.

We used to time how long Martin would sit in the office. It ranged from a few minutes to never more than half an hour. He would sit down and start searching for documents. The longer he sat the more uncomfortable he became as the sun was beating down on him and he struggled to find the paperwork that needed to be reviewed and approved. Finally he would get so frustrated that he would storm out of the office muttering under his breath and go and check on the workers one more time before beer time at five pm.

My girlfriend and I discussed moving the office. Her mother, Mary, warned that Martin had a terrible temper and would not accept change easily. We raised the issue with Martin one evening after dinner and a few beers. He muttered something about not having enough time and he had other more important worries as his banker was warning him that he was close to his credit limits.

On the following Saturday, Martin went to the city for a farmer’s co-op meeting and we knew that he would be gone most of the day. So I decided, despite the warnings from my girlfriend and Mary, that we should move the office. We picked a bedroom in the rambling farmhouse that had not been used for years and cleared out all the junk. It took a while as Mary was a hoarder and the idea of throwing out old magazines and other junk was painful for her.

Then we had to take the desk apart to get it out of the old office and we would have to reassemble it in the new office. So we moved everything else first. We hung some maps and pictures on the wall. We had enough space in the new office for Mary to have her desk and chair as she did some of the bookwork.

However as we were moving the desk into the new office, Martin arrived home. He was earlier than usual. He came round the corner in the house and saw the desk in pieces on the floor in the hall. He started to yell … What the … and then … suddenly stopped … and stared. At this point I was alone. My girlfriend and Mary had disappeared. As Martin stood above me scratching his head, two little heads popped around the corner to see what was going on. Cowards leaving me to face the music!

I quietly explained that we were moving his office and would he help me with the last few pieces.  Martin did not say a thing. He did what I asked and then when we had finished we showed him to his seat and asked for his opinion. He sat down and with a smirk on his face decided to point out a few minor things that were not quite perfect. We corrected them quickly. He tried to think of some more objections but was stumped.

That evening we all had drinks in the office instead of the lounge. The next day he moved the phone wires and the party line phone system into the office. My girlfriend and I went back to finish university and go on to other careers and forgot about becoming farmers.

Each year we came to visit the farm during our holidays.

The first changes we noticed was the office had become the main room in the house and the furnishings had been improved.

We then decided to check on Martin’s routine. He still went out early in the mornings to allocate the work but after breakfast he went into the office instead to the village. He spent time in the office doing calculations and estimates, checking invoices, ordering supplies by phone as he told me he did not have time to drive into the village. After lunch and a quick nap he was back in his office and it was only after tea in the afternoon when he sometimes went to the lands to check the work.

The second year when we visited we found Martin had promoted two of his best workers as supervisors to do the work he could no longer do because he was spending so much time in the office. Often around 5 pm when the work was done the supervisors came to the office to discuss with Martin the work they thought needed to be done the next day.

Martin proudly told us that he had figured out he was making more money sitting in his office than he did wandering around the lands supervising workers.

The third year when we visited, Martin was only checking up around the farm every few days and sometimes only once a week. Martin and Mary were taking longer holidays. Mary noticed that her husband seem to have some of his best ideas when he got back from a few weeks away.

The fourth year was amazing. Martin had changed his whole cropping program. He was cutting back on tobacco and starting to grow soybeans. Farmers in the area thought he was crazy and told him so at the country club. Martin tried to explain but they were not interested. “They don’t get it”, he used to mutter.

In year five when we visited, Martin was trying to help his neighbours see the merit of a comfortable office, hiring supervisors and taking long holidays. They thought he was crazy. They had inherited farms from family and everyone knew that unless you could see the farmer’s footprints in the lands all day every day, all year around – you were a lazy farmer. Yet these hardworking farmers were going broke.

In year six, everything changed. My girlfriend became my wife and we had a big farm wedding. The next year Martin bought two farms from famers who had gone broke. He was determined to make them profitable. He also wanted to bring his eldest son, David into the business to help him.

It was another ten years later when Martin had a stroke. David took over control of the farms. The youngest son, Paul was now also working on the farms. When we went to visit, David and Paul told us they did not want the office to be in Dad’s house anymore. There were several houses on the family farms. They wanted our help to plan a new office.  They told us they wanted a bigger more beautiful office because they wanted to make enough money to support three families on the farm as well as all the workers.

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.

$15

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“A joy to work with, heard loud and clear. When the farmers laughed or asked a great question, I knew they were listening and really wanted to learn from her. Her tips were easy to understand. It was just about understanding that conflict happens, and to have the confidence in yourself to ask for what you want. In the glowing review from farmers after her presentation, I knew they had heard that loud and clear.”
Maddy Berner, Event Planner & Communications Coordinator, National Milk Producers Federation National Milk Producers Federation
“I wanted to say a HUGE thank you for your virtual kitchen table chat with Arlan Academy. My wife and I signed up as it was exceptionally relevant to our current journey with potentially transitioning to her parents’ farm. The session was able to cover so many aspects of these crucial conversations and hearing you speak to both sides of the conversation was eye opening for my own perspective on this topic. It seemed to be very well attended and sounded like there were many other people who would echo my thoughts and feelings on it.”
N. Oakley, Farmer, Ontario
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Don Forbes, Forbes Wealth Management
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Annessa Good, FCC Transition Specialist, Alberta
“Elaine Froese truly is the Farm Whisperer. With her big heart and stern resolve, she guides families through uncharted waters and helps them arrive safely at their desired destination. She has been there, done that, and has helped hundreds of families come out on the other side. With your family and your farm legacy on the line, you owe it to yourself to start this conversation. You do not need to do it alone. Let Elaine Froese guide you through. Your legacy is being written day by day. How will you be remembered?”
Tracy Brunet, Host of The Impact Farming Show & CEO of Farm Marketer
“You speak like you’ve been sitting at our kitchen table! You know our family issues well. I am feeling more comfortable understanding what we now need to do. Elaine Froese is real.”
Audience Member,
“I attended the meeting you spoke at in Stratford Ontario recently. We held an emergency family/farm meeting today because of issues that I had enough of. We used a 'talking stick' like you recommended and wrote a chart of rules. The rest of the family thought the idea that we needed a meeting was worth rolling their eyes over, until we got started. The younger ones were quick to clue in that they now have an opportunity to be bluntly honest. The older ones took a bit longer to believe they could truly say what they think. In the end, the meeting needed two sessions because there was so much to talk about… and so many things people didn't realize were a big deal to the others. Your lessons and encouragement have given us the tools we need to get to a better place in our relationships and our business. Truly thankful.”
Kim Martin, Dairy Farmer, Ontario
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Tennille Wakefield, Farm Partner
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James Mitchell, Principal, Conversations Consulting
“Our family had a good farm meeting yesterday afternoon. Your Fairness video was a great topic of discussion. One of the action items after the meeting was to have my two non-farming siblings watch the video before the next big meeting they are involved with on the farm. It will be a great conversation starter as we catch them up on our current plan. As they are younger, we also hope it will help them to ask new questions that may not have been on their mind.”
G.G., Farm Family Legacy Coach, Alberta
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Laurianne Osmack, Financial Planner / Partner, Doell Osmak Wealth Management
“She has a sense of “knowing” quickly what is happening in the family dynamic. Her messages to her audiences drive home what needs to be done next to solve the complex issues of farm transition and conflict resolution.”
Audience Member,
“Eye-opening. Excited to open the door of communication with my spouse and farm family.”
Ashley Hoppe, Farm Partner
“The Strong Farms, Strong Families session gave farm families an opportunity to meet face to face with Elaine Froese... hear her own story, experiences and skill set. From this information packed session and related materials, families could identify areas of success in their journey and other places they need assistance. The greatest take away was that participants could see that Elaine Froese is someone they can trust with the things that they hold most precious.... their family and their farm.”
Nancy Atkinson, Nobleford Ag Society, Alberta
“Elaine’s real-life scenarios help her audiences know they are not alone, knowing there are creative solutions to help them get the life on the farm they have always wanted.”
Audience Member,
“A long time female client who had refined the art of procrastination was so moved by the end of your presentation that she accepted your permission to “drop the bananas.” She contacted me soon after for an appointment to do some planning which included the selling of the family “Century Farm.” A very, very emotional decision on her part that was not likely to have occurred without your presentation.”
Don Forbes, Forbes Wealthy Management
“I just have to say… that your work is amazing and I have never forgotten your teachings from our session in Williams Lake at TRU. It is super important work. I know so many people going through the trauma of succession. I hate to use that word, but I was an “out-law” and know it can get terrible. I continue to forward your emails on to others. Keep doing what you do! You are amazing. You kind of walk into the fire regularly… and with a smile. Proud to have met you.”
Megan, BC Rancher
“As my husband and I eagerly started the course we were optimistic and excited to be taking this next step in our Farm Transition. We were starting to question ourselves and whether or not we were just being selfish and greedy, and if this Farm Transition was still an option for us. We barely got through the first Module and were already having such a huge relief. As we moved through the modulus there were so many times that we just sat back with our hands in the air and thought YES. My husband and I would smile with relief because all of the concerns that we have been struggling with were relevant and came up in the modules. We really enjoyed the course and are excited to move on to the next stages to find our farm resolution.”
Shannon Gilchrist, “Get Farm Transition Unstuck” online course participant
“My hubby farms with 2 brothers and parents, and it’s become a really toxic place. No communication, no respect, etc. Twelve months ago, my husband’s brothers told him they don’t want to work with him anymore and offered him a pay out. His parents did nothing to stop it! He had no choice but to leave. Three months later, we moved off the farm and into town. He has been offered heaps of jobs and is now truck driving and carting hay and grain. We have tried communicating with his parents about what happened but they are not interested. So basically my hubby has lost his family. Very sad but we as husband and wife are overall in a good place and moving on to create our own life. Please continue on with all your wonderful work in helping families on the farm. I continue to tell any farmers I know about you, that they must ‘google’ you, and read your books.”
Donna, Farmer, Australia

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