Build a Resilient Farm Strategy

Finance First

The future of farming belongs to those who respond and adapt to change

Published on: May 6, 2013

This spring has already thrown some challenges at farmers with cold, wet weather where we should be planting. As a farmer, you deal with wacky weather forecasts and volatile commodity markets much of the time.

A lot has been changing in the big picture of farming, too. Think about land prices and break evens and the things you have to know about technology to stay on top. These changes might not be as evident as fluctuations in the weekly weather forecast or in the price of corn, but they are happening quickly.

It seems like only one thing about the future is for certain: change will continue to happen. But it's human nature to build our lives and businesses around what the world is like right now. That can become a problem if we don't see the need to be resilient.

Being resilient means the ability to respond quickly as change happens in the world and in our farm businesses. It means adapting our strategy and being agile – ready to tackle the next new challenge, whatever it may be. It can mean trading in old ways of thinking for fresh perspectives, based on today's situation.

Becoming resilient in our thinking and in our farm businesses is going to make the difference between the farms that survive and thrive in the face of change, and those that get blindsided and thrown off course by it. More and more, the best sustainable competitive advantage we can have is to learn faster and adapt more quickly than our neighbors.

Here are a few ideas to develop more resilience in your farm business.

Invest in a network – this could be trusted advisors, vendors and suppliers. They are the people you can turn to as a board of directors for your farm. Being connected to people who can provide valuable outside perspectives helps you navigate change.

Don't get too connected to specific assets. Every asset that you have, including land, should be something that creates some sort of value for the operation.

Build succession plans for your farm. Decide who your successor will be and help that person develop as a future farm leader. Think about the skills he or she will need to be a successful farmer in the future. Name a successor for each important position on your farm. Even if something unexpected happens to a key player, the farm will have the ability to continue operating with successor leaders in place.

Develop a flexible farm strategy. Creating agile business plans for the farm gives you the opportunity to anticipate potential issues and design alternate plans. These written plans have another advantage – everyone who works on the farm can get on the same page about where it's headed.

In farming, we face change every day. It's part of our business. The real question is how we choose to respond to it. The future of farming is going to be all about those who can build – and adapt – a resilient business.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    "More and more, the best sustainable competitive advantage we can have is to learn faster, and adapt more quickly than our neighbor." While your article is interesting, if creates a false premise. We in ag are no longer in competition with our neighbor. Our competitor is rabid environmentalism, which, by your verbiage I assume you have succumbed to (use of the word "sustainable" - you might want to reread the Liberal Left's definition of that terminology ). Additionally, the reelection of this destructively idealistic regime has revealed an as yet unforeseen boldness in the realm of government price manipulation. We can deal with the initial shot across the bow of grain's "free" market value , however how many more brash attempts can we absorb and survive? If you have been listening to your Secretary of Agriculture, EPA et al, you surely understand that the trend being advocated for farming's future is "back to the land", smaller, less innovative practices. The American public has a utopian ideal of how we should live and work, an ideal which is in drastic conflict with reality. Even the extension service has been force-fed the kool-aid, leading to many retirements. Have you noticed how many of our brilliant ag scientists are being replaced with scientist from third-world and emerging market nations? Of course, we should never question these almost English speaking Chinese and Indian scientist integrity, should we? They wouldn't dare fly U.S. agriculture into the ag equivalent of Ground Zero, would they? NO, nothing at all to worry about... everything will be fine. Believe me, competing with my neighbor is a non-starter, for the time being. Finding a way to continue to practice some semblance of capitalism in this Fascistic political environment is my top priority. Good luck neighbors!

  2. Anonymous says:

    80+ years farming and has a gmail account that is adapting and changing.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is one of the greatest and best columns I have read from any of the bloggers / article writers for Farm Futures! So many write about the horrors of uncertainty and the need for certainty. Never in my 80+ years related to farming has there been certainty! Too much rain / when will we ever get some wet can't get in the fields / so dry there's no hay to mow....we have to pay retail / can't control our selling prices...and on and on. Plus, too many articles only complain about change and new factors for licensing / govt programs / crop insurance -- want everything to stay the same! BUT the key, as you say so well, is observe what's happening, be resilient, adapt, expect change and welcome it to improve your own business! Thanks, again and again! Eldon McKie < >