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Key elements mark top advisory teams

Dairy producers and those who advise them are learning more about and benefiting from the implementation and use of on-farm management advisory teams.

Team members are selected and invited to participate by the farm manager. They typically consist of the most-trusted service providers the manager depends on for information needed to make management decisions. Team members may include individuals such as: feed, crops and financial consultants; veterinarians; milk plant field representatives; milking equipment specialists; county agents; technical college ag instructors; and lenders.

These key aspects are found in successful teams:

Schedule time to organize during the first management team meeting. People need an opportunity to get to know one another and to clarify their roles as well as what is to be accomplished, i.e. producer goals.

Reinforce the fundamentals of farm business management. Often people take off on a tangent rather than exploring the most common reasons for management results that do not meet producer expectations. It is important to recognize and emphasize the positive — those management practices that are being implemented well with positive results.

However, it is also important to provide clear and honest feedback on what can be improved. Recognize the practices that must be consistently implemented over and over again, two, three or more times each day, to produce positive results.

Mistakes are a natural part of the farm management game. Mistakes represent areas where successes can occur! Identify them as areas of opportunity.

Encourage mistakes. Every action item identified and implemented will not result in success. Use the opportunity to determine why it did or didn’t work. Was it the wrong thing at the wrong time, or was it the right thing that wasn’t implemented correctly? What information was gained from the experience? Did the additional information learned point you in a new and potentially successful direction?

Teach the sport, not just the skill. Become students of farm management beyond knowing what steps are recommended. Develop perspective of the big picture.

For example, during financial evaluations I have sometimes found an abundance of open accounts to service providers and credit cards at 18% interest. Although loan payments are current to the lender on intermediate and long-term loans, much of the available equity is offset by these open accounts and sometimes not accounted for on the balance sheet loans. This underscores the need to develop an understanding of true business equity as opposed to simply the ability to obtain additional credit.

Create a team identity. Creating a sense of team doesn’t just happen. It takes leadership from the team leader (herd manager) and team facilitator. Team building isn’t the absence of conflict, but rather that each player has a sense of how he or she fits in and what he or she contributes to the team process. Recognize how lucky the team is to have each member’s participation and that team members can gain from the experience, making them more effective service professionals for you and other customers.

Everybody plays. Every team member brings personal experience and professional knowledge to the team. Successful teams require a commitment to the team process of generating management options and reaching consensus on action plans to successfully address producer goals. Everyone needs to be engaged and committed to the process!

Make team meetings fun. Professionals enjoy taking part in new achievements and seeing their clientele succeed. Make sure producer goals are clearly stated, achievable and understood. Have an agenda that addresses critical monitoring aspects of the action plan, and keep the discussion directed toward the achievement of goals. Allow time before or after the agenda has been completed to catch up on personal issues and to socialize. Professionals want their time to be invested wisely during team meetings for it to be worthy of their attendance.

To learn more about on-farm management advisory teams, contact your University of Wisconsin Extension county agricultural agent or the UW Extension Center for Dairy Profitability at 715-877-1420.

Bolton is a staff member of the UW Extension Center for Dairy Profitability.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of WISCONSIN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.