The past year has seen some interesting, and frankly troubling, developments in the world of commodity pricing. Ordinarily, when one commodity is down another is trending upward to help soften the blow, but now it seems that most every Ag commodity is suffering a downturn. Downturns are also signaled by farm owners seeking answers, asking “What am I going to do?”. This is a good question, but the answer should actually be determined during the good times. Some say good times make for good managers, but I think the opposite is true. Good times can cover poor decisions or alleviate the pressure to make a decision at all.
So what AM I going to do? Recently, I helped with the Holistic Management and Risk Assessment Workshop for Dairy Farmers in the Southern Region conducted by Drs. Gonzalo Ferreira and Alex White of VT’s Dairy Science Department. While the program was focused on dairy farmers, the principles of business and enterprise evaluation could be applied to most any scenario. One slide in the second session struck me in particular… “BE BRAVE…Be a Manager!” Under that heading Dr. Ferreira had four bullet points that should be given serious thought.
Move Forward. Moving forward may seem impossible, but one thing is for sure, standing still in the face of economic ruin is not an option either. Change is a scary thing, but it is also the only certain thing in business and in life. As a farmer, I have no love for the word “quit,” but I also agree with the statement that “quitting while one is ahead isn’t the same as quitting”. It isn’t retreating if you decide to move forward in a new direction. Not making a decision IS a decision; you have decided to not decide.
When analysis is done, half the work is done. Difficult decisions are easy to put off or ignore altogether, but once a clear pathway forward has been decided, work is not only easier, it is more efficient. For example, many dairies have decided to purchase forages rather than grow them. Once that decision is made, many other decisions fall into place. Equipment replacement or repairs, manure handling and nutrient management, or storage needs all follow the decision to not grow forages anymore. Making the call also makes life easier for those around you. Family members and employees can see the vision and direction of the farm, so can move with purpose in the same direction. One thing my Dad instilled in me was the necessity to be positive on the job. Griping about decisions is like injecting poison into your operation and everyone involved in it. Not only is it unproductive, it is downright tiring! Pulling together makes the workdays more efficient.
Avoid paralysis by analysis. Sometimes one can have way too many choices. A good manager cuts through the clutter, makes a decision and rolls on. It may be wise to set some time limits on decision making. The longer a decision—no matter how crucial—is postponed the more likely an equally crucial call will roll up against it. The trouble with paralysis by analysis is that it mimics negativity in that it spreads. It damages your outward attitude as seen by others. If you are stymied by making a decision, the chances are high that your family or staff follow suit. Being tough-minded and making sound decisions in a timely fashion will draw others to you.
Avoiding failure is to avoid progress. Benjamin Franklin said “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” That said, being “adventurous” doesn’t give you a blank check to act recklessly. John Wooden explained it this way, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Let’s just get this out of the way. Not every decision you make is going to be correct in the long run. You are not perfect; you will make mistakes. A good manager doesn’t second guess themselves, knowing that even if the decision proves to be wrong, corrections lie in the future not in the past. If you are unsure what to do, look for solutions that offer flexibility. An all-in, go for broke option may lead to just that. Any management decision that risks your family living carries too high a price tag in my opinion. Taking calculated risks is not the same as being risky.
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
November 1, 2016