7 Differentiators of a successful farming business, part 3

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In our business we have the chance to observe many farming operations from the inside and get an understanding of what builds success in this business of agriculture. Based on our company’s experience in working with farmers across the Midwest since 1994, I’ve been able to identify a list of seven differentiators for building a successful farming business.

A few weeks ago, I covered the first two differentiators; last week I continued with differentiators three and four. In case you missed it, click the links above; if you prefer the express route, they were:

  1. Use core values to drive the business decisions
  2. Define a clear vision for the business
  3. Utilize the brain power of the team
  4. Take action and learn

Now, we'll conclude the list with the final three differentiators that set successful farm businesses apart from the pack:

5. An emphasis on personal accountability
When you think about personal accountability, chances are, your mind goes to the lack of it. We tend to notice it most when absent. The lack of personal accountability is simply someone not owning their mistakes. A lack of personal accountability in oneself might be the case if you have a feeling of powerlessness or when you think of yourself as the victim in a situation.

Just recently, I was reading the paper and came across an example. In a personal finance column, a lady had written in and said “I’m 45 years old. I have struggled with debt my whole life. I don’t know what to do. My parents live conservatively and are never in debt, but they did not teach me how to do it.”

She’s 45 and in debt. Her parents live conservatively, but she’s still blaming them for her being in debt.

I’m thinking: Just spend less than you make. It’s not rocket science. Until she stops blaming her parents for what they haven’t done, she’s never going to change.

There are common victim statements that we find ourselves saying. They often start with words such as “When are they…?” or “Why won’t they…?” or “When is somebody…?” Here are two you can relate to: “When is the USDA going to get their head straight?” and “When’s this weather going to improve?” These statements lead us to victim thinking.

To get out of this mindset we should keep two lists: The Things I Can Control; and The Things Beyond My Control. For instance: I can’t control the weather. I can’t control the U.S. Department of Agriculture…So I’m not even going to talk about it; rather, I’m going to focus all my energy on the things that I can do.

One of the key phrases of personal accountability is, “What can I do?” If I don’t like what the USDA is doing, my response needs to be, “What can I do to minimize the effect they have on my life?” I can’t change them, I can only change me.

John G. Miller authored the book QBQ—The Question behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability in Business and in Life. When you read this book, many people you know will likely come to mind. You’ll think they should read this book. There are a lot of people we would like to fix, but personal accountability says, “I’ll start with me.”

6. Leaders who seek constant improvement
It’s easy to get caught up with comparing yourself to others, but successful farmers have a different mindset. They’re not concerned with what neighbors are doing because they compete against themselves. They work on their thinking. Thinking is their work. They seek incremental change in each area of their business. They adopt ideas sooner.  They take chances. They risk.

In agriculture, we’re in a zero-sum game that affects our mindset. There is a limited amount of land available and no option for making more. Land is the raw material that we need to grow crops, and that makes it a zero-sum game. So our first thought is, “I want to become more profitable. If I want to grow, I need to add more land.”

What if we simply thought differently, such as, “I need to maximize my profitability on my existing land. I need to earn the right to grow by extracting as much profit out of each acre as possible?” That’s a mindset change, holding constant improvement as the focus.

Everyone knows that if you and another guy come across an angry bear in the woods, you don’t have to outrun the bear—you only have to outrun the other guy. I have observed that the best farmers are not outrunning the bear or the other farmers. They spend their energy thinking, figuring out how they can adapt and move quicker than they did yesterday. That’s their focus.

So what can you do to begin thinking differently? Think about your farm and what it is that impacts your success. Determine how you can take that business, or that niche, or that competitive advantage to the next level. You don’t have to make radical changes. Just invest the energy there to make it just a little bit better. That will put you on the road to constant improvement.

7. People who persevere
Perseverance comes from having a clear understanding of where we’re going and why, and having a passion for what we do. Many times in the last decade or so I’ve heard farmers say that they just don’t enjoy farming anymore even though it used to be their passion. They say they can’t wait to get out of the business. Hearing comments like that absolutely breaks my heart.

Conversely, it’s exciting to be at a seminar where farmers are passionate about the business and enthused about the future. These are the words you say to yourself if you’re in that camp: “I know there are going to be obstacles in the future. I know there will be hurdles we’ll have to overcome. I’m going to raise my game and surround myself with people who challenge me and my thinking. I can do something about my future.”

These are the people who are the face of the future in agriculture. They make plans to create opportunities instead of just seeing what happens. This is different from lifestyle farming. Lifestyle farming is merely doing what we love to do. Farming today is not a lifestyle. It is a business and now more than ever it needs a vision.  The vision must incorporate plans to overcome any obstacle.

It will take perseverance. It will take energy. Just like forging steel takes heat, this farming business takes energy and vision.

Face the challenge, feel the flow
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is an author who talks about the concept of flow. (He may have needed to get into this state early in life, just to master spelling his own last name.) Flow has a lot to do with how much fun you have farming. It’s a match between your level of expertise and the level of the challenge.

I believe a lot of farmers in the ‘90s were feeling that flow. They were making money. Volatility was much lower than it is now. They were rewarded for agronomic skills. They could work harder and produce more. They did what they loved and felt in control of their destinies.

In the past 10 or 15 years, the challenge of farming has started to outweigh our skills. When that happens, we shift to anxiety and worry. Knowing where the challenge is and where our skills are is a major key to success. Some farmers have moved to apathy…just waiting for the game to change. That’s not a solution.

The challenges aren’t going away. Those who do not buy in to victim mentality persevere and think, “How am I going to address this? What am I going to do?”

What does your thinking say?