Last November, I attended the Ag. Excellence conference (AgEXCONF 2015), hosted by Farm Management Canada. The conference took place in Regina, although I was only able to attend via my Twitter feed. I was inspired by the sea of young and eager agricultural entrepreneurs who were looking for new ways to improve themselves and their business. Here is some of the advice young farmers gave at AgEXCONF 2015. The pieces of advice in bold are the ones for which I have coaching tools to help you improve your skills.
Valuable Advice from AgEXCONF 2015
- Have a global perspective.
- Remember – this is about money, not a lifestyle.
- Understand your values and your value, and communicate it.
- Learn financial literacy.
- Manage risk but don’t be scared of it.
- Work smarter not harder.
- Think outside the box.
- Figure out your expertise.
- It’s not easy to change jobs just because you are tired of it.
- Set goals; have a plan.
- Be proud of what you do.
- Start succession planning now.
- Have open communications with other generations.
- Be active in the industry.
- Don’t try to do everything on your own…hire in weak areas.
- Be okay with mistakes.
- Evaluate your business regularly with family and employees.
- Keep family planning separate from operational planning.
- Diversify your income.
- Reputation is your best asset.
- Satisfy your customers.
- Have a network of mentors.
- Be a good neighbor.
- Work-life balance.
- Get an off-farm perspective.
- Face time is important.
The Top Five Priorities, As Voted by Young Farmers
- PLAN succession and business.
- Risk management – start early and don’t be afraid.
- Farming is a business.
- Figure out your expertise. It is okay to make mistakes; you can’t do everything.
- Communicate…more and better.
We Wish Parents Understood…
1. Work/life balance.
This comes up in my coaching conversations all the time. The founders concede that the “next” generation is not going to work as hard as the founders did. I call balance a “polarity.” I see it as something to be managed, not something that will ever be “done.” What is a good day on the farm to you? Could you consider only doing cow chores on Sunday, and then take the rest of the day off for renewal and family time?
2. This is 2015.
I suspect this relates to my phrase “that was then and this is now.” Things are different. Different is not wrong it is just different. What is it about the new ways of doing things in 2015 that threatens the founders? What exactly do you mean by “this is 2015?”
3. Let’s get a plan.
Many farm teams are suffering from the “pain of not knowing.” Get out of the high stress and high anxiety place of not knowing what the future holds. Email me for a set of binder tabs (costs $10) to start getting your plans organized. Talk at regular business planning meetings, meet with your advisors: accountant, financial planner, lawyer, insurance agent, broker, coach, and get things written down to give everyone a better sense of security.
4. Parents are entitled to retire.
Interesting. The parents sometimes feel pushed and shoved off the farm by strong-willed young farmers who have different ideas about how things should run. The happy parents are those who realize that their adult successors feel that the parents should take more time off and enjoy the fruit of their 40 years of labour. Most dads are afraid to give up total control until they are assured that the next generation can really manage well. Parents don’t think of really retiring, they like to re-frame it as “re-inventing roles, or becoming the hired man again.” Talk to your farm team about what a reasonable expectation for workload and job descriptions looks like when mom and dad are 65.
5. Partners get to choose, they don’t have to be involved.
Pressure here for young women to act just like their mother in-laws. Some son-in-laws have off farm work and don’t want to have much to do with their wife’s farm. It can go both ways. Adopt a learner mindset with curiosity to find out what each partner in the successor’s home wants their roles to look like. What level of involvement in the farm are they happy with? Will it change when the grandchildren are in school?
What Young Farmers Need to Succeed
- Farm business planning, including the cycles and nature of the business.
- Education and skills development.
- Access to capital and to be prudent with debt
- Policy – understanding agricultural policy and getting involved.
- Understanding business structures and options.
Other Wisdom from AgEXCONF 2015
Terry Betker of Backswath Management shared his fundamentals during AgEXCONF 2015:
- This is about business.
- You will be the owners and managers.
- You need to have a vision, a written statement that defines the future for your farm and family.
- You need to understand the relationship between risk and return on investment.
- Work to separate business from emotion.
- You to need to continually enhance your management skill sets.
Steve Denys shared 5 things we need to communicate to the general public:
- We live where we work. We breathe the air and drink the water.
- We want to leave our land in even better shape for the next generation.
- We take pride in growing safe, high quality food. We eat the same food that everyone else does and we eat what we grow.
- We want and need to have conversations about food and farming.
- We are proud of what we do and how we do it.
Nuffield Scholar, Brenda Schoepp also shared these memorable quotes:
- “Mentors don’t provide solutions, they LEIP: liberate, empower, inspire, and permit.”
- “Equality is standing up for the excellence of the other.”
AgEXCONF 2015 gives us lots to think about as we embrace a new year on the farm and set some new goals and targets for successful farm operation and a happy farm family.