I was very fortunate to have been born to a successful, highly mechanised farm in central NSW Australia. It was a mixed farm with a long river frontage, where my early learning experiences were fun.
A Case Study by Peter Sergeant
Learning should be fun
I worked on the farm all through my formative years, even driving tractors before I could reach the peddles while sitting on the seat. I attribute many of the key life and business principles I’ve learned to the grounding I received from my father and his farmer friends while working on the farm.
My tertiary education at an agricultural college strengthened my appreciation of most types of farming and gave me an understanding of the basic principles.
Throughout these years, I was able to closely study the processes of many farmers. This enhanced my knowledge that attributed to starting my first business at the age of 23 years. It was an agricultural machinery business which exposed me to many more successful farmers.
I would like to share some of their wisdom with you, as there are many valuable ideas that can be adopted to improve any business or organisation. It’s just a matter of applying good wisdom and you will improve your performance. You can also learn wisdom from other industries that you can apply to your organisation.
Learning how farmers plan their operations
Farming is an increasingly competitive, complex and risky business and making well-informed decisions is a major factor in having a profitable farm. Like other businesses, they are subject to the four seasons, world markets and commodity prices beyond their control. A good farmer knows and understands the need for sound planning and an understanding of the market forces impacting their operations.
They know that if they don’t plan they will have many sleepless nights. They prepare for certain types of crops, while also considering the type of soil they have, the fertilisers and irrigation they need to use as well as crop rotations. It takes a long time before a farmer can reap the harvest, so planning has to be clear, practical and hard-nosed.
Take a look at the basics. Before a crop even starts growing, it has to develop roots. When a crop is first planted, it starts as a seed and then before it becomes a plant it has to grow its roots before it does anything else. As a calf grows it has to learn the business of becoming a cow. How good are the foundational roots in your organisation, in order to develop a sound business into the future?
Learning how farmers think long-term
Short-term success is rare in the farming business and if expected, generally leads to disappointment. Most activities on a farm are bound up in long-term thinking. Farmers focus on what’s working well and fix what’s not working well when they have time. Farmers tend not to focus on their weaknesses, but build on their strengths. Much od their thinking time is spent focusing on opportunities. They have no time for reliving their failures and mistakes, but they do tend to learn quickly from them and get on with the job.
Farmers have to sound understand stocking levels, marketing of their crops and animals. They have to budget for the unexpected, including crop failures and other disasters. They have to evaluate where they’re spending their time and effort because they’re looking at what costs them money and resources as well as improving their land use.
Learning how farmers understand risk
Rarely do you meet a farmer who is risk adverse? Farmers need to understand the risks and prepare for them or they go out of business quickly. Preparing for droughts, floods and bushfires present plenty of risk management exercises.
Management of these risks is largely about making sure the business is performing well no matter what the climatic conditions. Maybe your business needs to experience some tough times in order to gain a better understanding of risks and how to manage them. Farmers who don’t address risk are generally wiped out.
Failures generally result from using the wrong strategies. Wrong strategies deliver the wrong outcomes and quickly lead to failures. The biggest failures in the world could have been solved if the right actions had been taken when they were small and manageable. Quickly learning new strategies and putting the right actions in place, will put you get back on track quickly, http://goo.gl/vRhDEg.
Just like any business, farming is an increasingly competitive, complex and risky business. Making well-informed decisions in preparing for droughts, market fluctuations and other risks is a major factor in having a profitable farm, or business.
Farmers prepare the seed beds
The Parable from Mathew 13, best sums this up. “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still, other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand”, https://goo.gl/hdgE75.
Farmers utilise the right equipment
Being raised on a highly mechanised farm, I appreciated the role farm machinery played in the efficient running of the farm. Technology is so important for business too, as it can help you to develop the competitive edge needed to succeed.
You don’t have to have the latest and greatest piece of equipment, but it does have to work effectively and efficiently. Equipment for equipment sake, or for keeping up with the neighbours is an expensive exercise you don’t need. However, agriculture looks different today. Farmers are using GPS to guide their machinery and can monitor their irrigation and other systems over the Internet. Farmers today are leading lights in business automation and advanced manufacturing.
Operate your machinery like the farmers does, learn how to nurture it to obtain efficiency. They have time to appreciate the shortfalls and consider upgrades. Doing your research and learning to make your comparisons will pay dividends. Business automation is creeping into farming just as it is in the general business community and farmers a quick to take up anything that will improve their operations.
Farmers plant the seeds
You will often hear a farmer talking about a new piece of equipment, a new breed of cattle or a new type of crop, months, even years before anything materialises. To me, it often seemed as though they were procrastinating and would never take any real action. In fact, it was a new idea, just like a small seed desperate to sprout.
But you have to start somewhere and it is the dream, idea or opportunity that you have to plant. You have to ensure that when that small seed grows that you have the organisation and conditions in which it will flourish. It is your job to make that seed grow, so you want to give it the best environment in which to grow.
It is important that you recognise your available resources and your skill base in order to maximise the opportunity and not leave it to chance. I believe luck is when you win the lottery and you haven’t bought a ticket, so choose the best ideas and opportunities for you to plant.
Farmers are innovative
Because farmers get their hands dirty working at the coal face and have time to think as they are driving tractors or herding stock, they have time for creativity and for assessing innovative ideas.
Most farmers don’t complain much. There is nobody to listen to them. They keep working and finding ways to overcome their problems and frustrations. They keep it simple by focusing on the main priorities and working to ensure problems and frustrations are taken care of by doing whatever it takes.
You have to find a way to succeed in your organisation. I love using farming comparisons to illustrate ways to improve any organisation because the concepts are really simple. All a plant needs are good soil, some water, the sun and if it gets that, it will grow and produce a successful outcome. Innovation is about what else you can do to get the organisation to grow more profitably and sustainably.
Farmers plan for a harvest
Make sure the plan you have has a harvest, too many business struggles on year after year at a subsistence level. There are a lot of people who have great ideas, but unfortunately, without the proper planning, it doesn’t make them any money or delivers them the lifestyle they are looking for.
Make sure that whatever you’re working on has sufficient working capital available to bring it to fruition, otherwise, you will be out of business before you really start growing.
If your idea or opportunity doesn’t work out there will be no harvest? It happens to everybody. You may have to pick yourself up and regroup, do some more serious planning and simply plant something new.
Farmers help each other
Individual farmers help each other by exchanging information about the best ways to grow their crops and the best machinery to buy. They help each other by comparing experiences they have with various farming activities and eventual outcomes. They also help each other as catalysts for better decision making. You only have to attend a barbeque with a bunch of farmers to experience the way they share.
Farmers benefit from farmers groups, cooperatives and networks, where they can help each other not only through marketing advantages, but also through the exchange of knowledge and experiences, and through the increased bargaining power in the purchase of inputs. Information technology is playing an important role today in helping each other to communicate and share information.
Farmers know how to take fast action
Farmers are used to taking fast action. Saving livestock, timely harvesting, reacting to bushfires and floods, conditions farmers to take fast and immediate action. Sloppy attitudes and decision making can be a costly thing on a farm, as it can be in any organisation where problems can be less obvious.
While farmers may appear to be disorganised sometimes, they don’t usually let clutter accumulate. Clutter slowly sucks away your time, energy, and money. By attacking specific areas where it tends to collect you can reclaim back some of your time and resources.
When you want something better for yourself, the first step is to realise it is up to you to create and understand and you can do it starting right now. Everybody who teaches about success principles talks about taking action and there is a reason why. The action is what causes dreams to become reality and taking action is the only way to bring your vision into today so you can do something about it.
Farmers know how to relax
One of the things I enjoyed about working on the farm was when the work was done everybody relaxed. There is always a social life even though it is not easily observed by city folk when they drive down the main street of a rural town. The action is mostly on someone’s farm.
Relaxing is something everyone should be able to do. But those who are constantly stressed, are workaholics or have certain health issues don’t have an easy ‘off’ switch. Relaxation is something we actually have to learn and practice. Learning to relax is extremely important for your health and well-being. Look for ways you can beat chronic stress and learn to slow down.
Farmers learn quickly about taking moments out of their work program to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The first thing to examine is your lifestyle, is it interfering with your ability to relax. We all become stressed out now and again, but a bad work environment, relationship problems, money problems, and even clutter around you can keep you constantly on edge.
It’s hard to relax when something is constantly nagging at you, or you have negative mind traffic at the back of your mind and you are always aware of the stressors. Farmers have nature and the wide open spaces to relax in, which gives you a clue about how they relax. Throughout the year, farmers have forced downtime, while they are waiting for harvest or during heavy rain and in times of drought. At this time farmers are forced to stop work and learn to relax as it is their only option. Learning to be patient is also something farmers are forced to do and derive benefit from.
Take up the ‘farmer learning challenge’
My challenge to you is to build your business by thinking like a farmer and learning like a farmer. Start planning all your inputs and outputs. Think about the seasonal fluctuations and risks you could be facing as they won’t go way.
Most importantly, learning to plant ‘seeds’ (ideas) every day is what grows successful businesses. Go out and plant something great, something you really want to be in your future. Consider the roots you’re planting in your business and personal life, because without roots nothing grows and you can easily end up in the wrong places. Management is largely about making sure your business is performing well no matter what the climatic or economic conditions.
Invest in your learning about business management, focusing on the profit performance and sustainability of the business. Learning in this area helps you to better understand your costs and income base and the costs and risks associated with adapting your systems and processes under increasingly variable operating conditions.
“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilisation”. Daniel Webster
“Each of us has about 40 chances to accomplish our goals in life. I learned this first through agriculture because all farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest”. Howard Buffett