When thinking about your farm, start with why

Shay Foulk

I recently asked the ag community I interact with on the social media platform, Twitter, why they farm. I emphasized that I wanted real feedback. I found the introspection of the responses very interesting.

Some farmers said they farm to “feed the world.” This included vegetable, fruit and nut producers, as well as large commodity crop operations.

When thinking about your farm, start with why

Spring planting makes farming an appealing career. The Foulk Farm readies for the key season. (File photo by Shay Foulk)

Many said they farm for the freedom the role offers. This included being able to take the kids to school, spend more time on the farm and in the country, as well as not having a boss or someone to report to every day.

Others felt called to the role. It’s all they have ever known, they have always loved it and want to keep it that way. Many showed appreciation for their faith, and the close connection farming brings them to nature and their beliefs.

Finally, many openly and honestly admitted it was for the money. Treating the farm operation as an agribusiness is important. The money generated allows them to do the things they want and build a future they desire for their families and as part of their legacy.

Working through the winter months can be challenging for farm operations of any size or production. Lots of office and bookwork, year-end tax preparation, equipment readiness, calving, cleaning out hog buildings, cold weather - the list goes on.

Many face seasonal anxiety and depression, and question themselves, the choices they’ve made and the future of the business.

If those are true for you, or if you simply haven’t conducted an exercise like this before, I encourage you to ask yourselves and your team a series of questions that will help provide direction, vision and hope moving through this year and beyond.

What is your why?

Why do you do what you do? List the things you enjoy about the jobs, and some of the things you maybe don’t enjoy as much. How do they balance each other? Are there areas of improvement? Do you need a new why?

Sometimes people get involved in farming for one reason and realize their visions or goals have changed over time, and they now operate for a different reason. This is also an important time to ask as a team, why they like their roles or why they think the farm exists. This direction and vision is important for everyone to understand personally and as a team.

What is your niche?

Maybe you don’t feel your operation has one, but upon closer evaluation you probably do. Are you located within a river, ethanol or feed market? Is basis normally strong? Maybe you have excellent soils for growing various types of crops. A close connection with a processor?

Is diversification prevalent on your farm? How about specialty crops, markets or unique opportunities to your area? Does off-farm income allow you to grow (however you define growth) in a way you wouldn’t be able to otherwise? Give this some real thought and a good amount of time to evaluate.

How do you define change, growth and vision?

If you’re going through some changes in your farm business right now, make sure you have clearly defined why you’re making those changes, and set goals and benchmarks to understand if you’re staying on track with the initial reasons. If not, that’s OK! But understand why it may be different now than when you started that path.

What does growth mean to you? More acres? More income? More diversification? More family time? Less stress? Fewer landlords? Less expense? Every operation we work with has a different definition of growth. Understand what it means to you.

Finally, what is your vision for the operation in the next three months, one year and three years? Some operations even look 20 to 40 years down the road at where they would like to be in retirement and set specific goals, such as number of acres owned, wealth amassed and opportunities created for the future generation.

Most farms simply want to create opportunities, have enough to retire, maybe travel and spend time with grandkids. These are all great things!

How can we make them more specific, so that we can be sure we are on track to achieve them? And if the vision changes? Good. It probably will. Reassess, redefine and get started again.

Illinois farmers have a tremendous amount of diversity, opportunity and growth in front of them. I hope this discussion helps you, your farm business and your family better understand your why.

If you’re interested, I’d love to hear the reason why you farm! Email me any time at agronguy@gmail.com.

Shay Foulk works as a farm business consultant across the U.S. and Canada. He also farms in Marshall County and runs a regional seed business with his wife and father-in-law.