Imagine a farmer 50 years ago. Maybe it's your dad and mom, or grandpa and grandma. Imagine what that farmer does as they work in their operation each day. What activities are they spending the majority of their time on?
It's probably not in the farm office doing paperwork. It's outside or in the barn or shop, doing the work of production ag. It's planting the crop or fixing the fence or repairing the tractor or mowing the ditch – or one of the many other tasks that must be done.
Fifty years ago, the farmer probably wasn't spending a great deal of time managing employees, or reviewing financial projections, or managing relationships with landlords and bankers. Maybe the farm had a hired man, or a couple local landlords. But there wasn't a big reason to have things like written job descriptions or a comprehensive landlord relations strategy in place.
Changes over time
Many farm leaders today would probably say they spend more time on the business side of their farm than on the production work, or at least, much more than they used to. That change has happened over time but certainly accelerated in the last 10 to 15 years.
That makes me wonder: the farm leader's role has changed so much over the past 50 years. What will the farm leader need to focus on in the next 50 years? What are the skills the farm leader will need to successfully lead the farm in the future?
I think there will be several skills that are going to be key for farm leaders as we move further into the future. And these skills are already becoming required of today's farm CEOs – and will be absolutely essential for future farm operations.
Here are three of the skills it's valuable to start working on now, whether you are currently a farm CEO or hope to be someday.
• Communication – The farm CEO of the future will likely be flexing communication muscles every single day. Whether it's with key business partners, employees – both family and non-family members – or other stakeholders, the farm CEO must be able to communicate well and have the ability to motivate and persuade people.
• Financial acumen – Farm CEOs need to be financially literate, and then take their financial understanding to the next level. They should discuss financial statements with lenders. They need to show that they understand financial concepts and can apply the concepts to their operation. This helps increase the confidence of lenders and landlords because you have a strong handle on the financial side of your farm.
• Relationship management – Managing key relationships with landlords, lenders, employees, business partners and the surrounding community is a skill of the future successful farm CEO. Strong, proactive relationship management is what will set the great farm operations apart from the merely good ones.
You could hope that your farm will achieve the success that you want by simply working hard and wishing that things will happen the way you want them to – or you can plan to be intentional about developing the skills that will make the biggest difference to you and to your operation's success.
If you're willing to invest in developing yourself in these key areas, there's still time to register for an exclusive farm business workshop where you'll get a leg up in each of these areas. It's happening later this month – August 23-25. See the ag speakers who will be there to teach you and meet with you one on one.
The opinions of Darren Frye are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or the Penton Farm Progress Group.