On the farm, we use plenty of filters; think of all the engine filters in your equipment. Having the right filters in place ensures that any impurities will be filtered out of the oil before it reaches the engine.

That filter helps keep the pistons moving smoothly, without friction, and ultimately prevents damage to your engine. With the right filters in place, your equipment continues to function properly and doesn’t constantly break down or have to be replaced.

Here’s another type of filter you need in place on your farm. I think of it as an “overall” farm filter.

As the head of the farming operation, you probably have a vision of where you want your farm to be in the future. To reach that vision, you need to have some set criteria or “filters” in place for decision-making. Using those filters can help you work toward your goals.

You can set up a series of “farm filters” to pass all major decisions through for the operation. That could include some financial filters related to the financial goals and metrics for your operation, some filters related to goals you have around the growth of your operation and filters having to do with relationships, such as relationships with your landlords and lender.

Filter At Work

For example, let’s say a farm operation has a goal of being debt-free within seven years. That financial goal becomes one of the filters for decisions in that operation.

At the end of the year, the operation was facing a tax burden. Some of the farm leaders brought up the possibility of whether a piece of equipment should be purchased for that reason.

The farm ran the decision through its “filters,” including the goal of being debt-free in seven years. They realized that their overall financial goals would be negatively affected if they went with the equipment purchase.

They also determined that they didn’t necessarily require that particular piece of equipment for operations at that point anyway. Ultimately, they chose not to buy the equipment at that time. Using the filter led to a better decision, one with more positive long-term effects.

There’s a reason a fuel plant is called a refinery: The fuel goes through a process to become more and more pure. It’s like putting an idea through your farm filters.

The decision becomes more pure and refined, until anything that ultimately makes it all the way through has been judged to be the best possible decision in those circumstances.

Without putting a decision through tough filters, you might end up feeling like you don’t have a clear sense of what to do. Then it gets shelved in the “maybe” category or you take action and realize later that you shouldn’t have.

If a potential decision doesn’t make it through your set of farm filters, you probably identified some reason or reasons that it’s not in line with your overall goals and direction right now.

The net result? The more you filter a decision, the more in line the final choice will be with where your operation is heading.

As you think about how you’re making decisions for your operation, I have another question for you: What skills have been the most valuable to you as you’ve built your farming operation?

You’ve worked hard to hone your production ag and livestock management skills. You’ve figured out how to produce the best possible crop and raise the best herd in the most efficient way. And your operation has seen growth and success because you’ve worked hard at consistent improvement.

But ag is changing, so it’s not as clear anymore that the skills that brought you to this point will be the same skills that are going to move your operation forward in the future.

Leading Your Operation

You already might be spending more of your time in an overall leadership and management role in your operation, rather than focusing on specific aspects of production.

That leadership role might require you to flex different muscles, and you may end up feeling like you’re trying to learn new skills on the fly. It can be frustrating or confusing, so your initial reaction is to move back to what you were comfortable with in the past.

And, of course, being a great producer is at the core of what it means to be an excellent farmer. Success in farming usually comes because the farmer is highly effective at production.

But what are the skills you’ll need to get your operation where you want it to be in the future? Hint: The skills may not be the same ones that helped make your operation the success it is today.

Make Your List

To create a short list of the skills that you and others in your operation will need, first think about the direction your operation is moving and where you could make the biggest impact by focusing your efforts as the head of your operation and areas where you could ask others on the farm to direct their efforts.

* In what areas of your operation do you want to get clear plans in place?

* What aspect of your farm, if you learned more about it, could bring a major pay-off in terms of efficiency or better management?

* In the future, what areas do you see yourself spending more time managing?

Here are a couple ideas you may want in your skill toolbox as you think about the future of your operation: planning for and managing your farm’s finances, communicating with and managing employees, developing and cultivating relationships with landlords and vendors and leadership skills that impact your overall operation.

When you encounter change in your operation and in agriculture, the instinct is to move back toward the skills and the approach that initially made you and your farm successful. But, in the long run, that won’t be the most viable strategy for your operation.

Start developing your personal strategy as a way to proactively respond to change and build your farm leadership skills. What new skill will you choose to start working on first?

Find more resources and information on setting up farm filters and developing skills for the future at www.waterstreet.org.