What was I reading to come up with this title?
It’s true that I finished a book called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. But I’ve studied Genghis Khan quite a bit in the past as well.
The reason why is that the Mongol dynasty made Alexander the Great’s look pitiful. Genghis Khan reorganized the world: he connected China to the west and developed gunpowder. For around 100 years in the 12th and 13th centuries the Mongols dominated, from Italy to China, to Russia, to India, to Turkey—basically most of the known world.
The Mongol warriors would easily defeat the huge European armies. After engaging in battle for a short while the Mongols would ride away as if in retreat. They would then lead the overconfident European armies into a trap and easily defeat them.
Granted, Genghis Kahn was about the worst human being you can imagine. He would go into a city and kill everyone if they didn’t cooperate.
But on strategy alone, there’s a lot for farmers to learn from Genghis Khan and the Mongols.
1) Speed and efficiency
Speed and efficiency were the Mongols’ secret weapons. They would travel lighter than everyone, unlike big armies with huge caravans. Even though each warrior had five horses, as long as they had good pastures they were good.
The Mongols would eat mice and birds, and their armor and clothing were sewn-together skins of field mice. They’d drink muddy water and turn raw meat into a form of jerky by sticking it under their saddles. While frozen lakes were a barrier to most, the Mongols would make skates and speed across them.
Let’s connect that to farming. If you’re efficient, farming same amount of land with half the machinery as another farmer, that’s going to pay big dividends.
I’ve got a neighbor with a 120-foot corn planter, and he can plant all of his corn in less than a week. It blows me away, since most farmers take a month or at least a couple of weeks.
Everyone thought he was nuts buying that planter, but it’s paid off.
2) Winning battles without fighting
The Khan would intimidate cities into submission before losing any of his men, which is why he was able to conquer so much, so fast. He’d go to the smaller cities and scare everybody, then overwhelm large cities who were brimming with refugees and conquer them.
With farming, what I’m talking about here is reputation management. I know some farmers who say, “I don’t know why they wouldn’t sell land to me or rent the land to me.” The answer could be related to reputation.
It doesn’t mean you have to go out and donate all your money, but getting things without fighting for them is the moral of this one. If you can have a good reputation in your community and give back, you’re going to get opportunities when people retire and so on. The community of farming is tight-knit, so keep your reputation positive. Pay it forward as they say...
3) Strength in intelligence—not in numbers
Every morning, Mongol scouts had a routine making sure things were good within their army. Then they would scout everything, sometimes for years in advance, seeing what kind of weaponry and tactics various civilizations used.
In agriculture, think about what happened when commodity prices drove way up. A lot of farmers, because of poor intelligence, set themselves up for failure with huge purchases and liabilities that could only be sustained under such inflated market prices.
Khan was known for going into a situation way before and being smarter than the competition (in his case, they were enemies). If you can analyze the value of expanding your farm to certain properties, or buying certain machinery, you’ll be looking at basic return on investment and making sure your operation will be positively impacted.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much you farm. What matters is the bottom line.
4) Swift and reliable communication
The Mongols were illiterate. Can you imagine trying to communicate across a growing empire or on a battlefield without written words? They would communicate by sound, with arrows that they would drill holes in.
And all the orders would have to be spoken man to man. What they would do was develop the orders into a rhyming song and add verses as information got added, making sure it was catchy so it never got distorted.
In agriculture, we’re not developing rhymes, but we are communicating with our employees. I’d say communication is one of the biggest causes of inefficiency in most modern farms. Almost everything that goes wrong ties back to miscommunication, whether it’s a truck driver who sells under the wrong entity or a worker who plants the wrong field.
Have systems in place where your team has a daily huddle, a weekly recap, or something of the sort.
5) Undeniable loyalty
The Khan was ingenious in securing loyalty. He was extremely generous to his troops.
Most generals would take all the good stuff and leave the leftovers to their men, so they were never loyal and would leave for the next best opportunity. But he had a rule that if a soldier died, his family would get a soldier’s share in the proceeds. So people were not afraid to die.
You can garner loyalty in your own employees. If you reward them for their good work, you’ll have a loyal team that takes ownership for their work, and you’ll see tremendous results.
Farmers can take all the good strategies of Genghis Khan and be set to run a very successful operation.
You should probably avoid all the murdering and pillaging, though!
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.