When it comes to troubleshooting and problem solving, farmers generally get quite an education during the very first years of their farming career.

Because there’s so much going on at the farm, with many different moving pieces, farmers learn to be good problem-solvers quickly within the environment of their operation.

That’s a great skill to bring to leading the operation. Diagnosing and creating solutions to the problems we encounter is something that happens probably every day, in some way, for all of us on the farm.

Sometimes, though, the problem at hand requires a bit more digging, which can even mean literal digging out in the field. But especially on the business side of the farm, leaders are often facing problems that are quite complex.

The Root Of Things

Pinpointing the exact problem is often where we need to spend most of our time and energy up front because it can be difficult to define precisely.

Otherwise, we can spend a lot of time spinning our wheels, trying to fix an issue that may not be the actual cause of the problem we’re trying to solve.

Overall, it’s key to make sure we’re getting to the “root” of the problem. When it comes to an agronomic issue, that could mean literally investigating the plant’s root system.

Without knowing what’s beneath the soil, we don’t have a full picture of what’s going on. The roots might contain some important information that’s going to inform our whole strategy and solution.

We need to first thoroughly investigate the problem or issue. Then, we can get to the root cause of the problem and plan how we’re going to address it.

Three Steps To Take

Often, farmers have found that when they dig more deeply into business challenges in their operation, the root cause might be a little different than they expected.

For example, problems that on the surface appeared to be a human resources issue or a credit line issue turned out to have a different root cause after some more digging.

Digging deeper is important. Otherwise, we can waste our time solving a bunch of “problems” that turn out to be surface level issues. Meanwhile, the real problem goes unsolved and continues to bother us because it’s down deeper, where we haven’t looked yet.

Here are three steps to take when confronting a major new or ongoing problem in your operation:

  1. Define the problem clearly. Take your time with this. Try not to jump to conclusions about causes.
  2. Look beyond surface issues. Dig deeper. Ask: What’s causing this? What’s really at stake here? Continue digging deeper until you identify possible root causes. Test to see whether each one is the real “root.”
  3. Once you’ve uncovered the root cause, get a clear solution plan in place.

Decision Time

For farm leaders, making decisions for the operation is something you must do every day. Sometimes, we might not have a lot of awareness around how we’re making decisions, especially when it comes to smaller or more routine decisions.

But other times, decisions can loom large. Maybe there’s a lot at stake. Maybe the decision will have effects and implications for other aspects of our operation. Worry and anxiety come in and lead to paralysis.

Working on how we make decisions — and striving to learn to make the best ones possible — is one of the primary responsibilities of the farm leader.

One way to improve decision-making on the farm is to set up a clear process. Not all decisions need to go through the process — so we first must define what qualifies as a “big enough” decision that it needs to go through the steps.

What’s “big enough” will vary from operation to operation. You might define that based on a particular dollar amount: a purchasing or marketing decision that will involve a certain number of dollars or higher, for example.

Farm leaders have found that having someone — an adviser for the farm — to help with decision-making by coming alongside them can be a lifesaver. Our advisers also help farm leaders create and put clear plans in place around grain marketing and the financial side of the farm business.

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