I want to address two different groups in this post. First, the young next generation farmers who are learning all they need to one day take over the reigns. Then the current generation who are responsible for teaching the next generation how to take those reigns to run an operationally and financially sound farm.
The Up and Comers
First, one of my favorite groups to talk to – the up and comers! Some of you just began farming on your own the past couple of years and some of you are getting ready to dip your toes in the water on your own. No matter which group you are I think there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Please recognize first and foremost that you do NOT know everything, and that this is ok. I don’t know everything either, sometimes I might act like I do, but that is another conversation. Don’t “be on an island alone” listen to those around you, they have seen more and made it work through more than you could imagine. They want to see you succeed and really want to help. Not to say that you shouldn’t make changes and blaze your own trail, but keep your ears open!
Next, feeding off the point above a bit – learn all you can! Listen, watch, and follow those currently running the farm. If you want to know something- ask, and if you want to learn how to do something- go watch! Ask to attend the farm meetings with them, go to the bank and accountant with them, and then one of the best things you can do – sit down with them when they go through their books to make plans. Learn how to plan! Understand how they make decisions and why. You don’t have to make the exact same decisions when you are running the farm, but it is important that you understand their logic. There is more to running the farm than being in the field. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made outside of field that could have just as much impact. Take the time to understand the all the input costs and the best ways to maximize income.
Been Farming a Couple of Years
To those who just began farming a couple of years ago, now you see what your folks were talking about. Am I right? You probably heard a mix of – “Times are good right now don’t get used to it.” “Prices are not going to stay this high, save some of that money!” “You are going to see tough times one day and you best be ready.” Yep. I’m sure you heard something along those lines, and they were right. I like to look at this way: You are learning early in your farm career how to struggle to make things work. You are also learning early on how to cut costs and run an efficient farm…because you have to. Nothing makes us learn faster than necessity!
Now on to the current generation who is tasked with getting these up and comers ready. You have a lot to do! You not only have to teach them how to farm, but how to run a business. You have to teach them an entire business cycle from start to finish. Prepare the fields, plant the crops, care for the crops, harvest the crops, and then sell the crops. We all know that’s not even all of it! Then you have to teach them the things in between the commas from the sentence above. How to decide what to plant, how to manage the input costs, and how to contract/market the product. Dang, that looks like even more than I thought when I started typing it out! Teaching all of this will take more than a growing season or 2. Lets face it, it will take a lifetime. We are all still learning because things change, but you have to prepare them and fill their heads with everything you know so they have a solid foundation to build on.
Please don’t be scared to get them involved now! It is never too early. Take them to meet with all of the professionals you utilize. I told them earlier to ask to go with you. Well, make them go with you. Their first time meeting the banker, CPA, attorney, etc.. should not be the day you die! Let me see you make you loan proposal, fill out your financial statement, and work on your taxes. None of these are fun to watch I know, but it is the only way they will learn.
Lastly; let me say to you don’t let the current times discourage you from getting them involved now. Don’t think that times are too hard right now to bring them in. What better time for them to learn how to run a lean operation? What better time for them to see that it takes time, thought, and sleepless nights to get make it through? Farming is a cyclical market and times will get better. Wouldn’t you rather start them off learning how to make it through rough times so they will truly appreciate and be cautious in the good times?
I will end with this thought – In order for the future of agriculture to be bright all generations have to work together and learn from one another. The path to learning goes both ways. With different generations comes different perspectives, and the combination of those perspectives is how great things get achieved.