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Frye: Four ways to build more flexibility into your farm business

In thinking about businesses that require the leader to build flexibility into every aspect, farming might not come to mind immediately for most people. But if you’ve farmed for nearly any length of time, you know the truth that both flexible thinking and plans are truly necessary for the farm to “make it.”

Stuck To The Plan

I see farm leaders taking a couple different approaches to flexibility. Much depends on their personality. Some farmers thrive on making plans and then carrying them out as best as possible. They do a great job planning in advance — another practice of the best farms — and staying on top of things.

A downfall can come if the leader is convinced that their exact plan will work out, even when it becomes clear that the circumstances are different than originally thought. They may not be willing to change tactics on the fly, even when it becomes clear they need to.

Lack Of Plans

Other farmers may take the approach of not really planning much at all. They might view the plans as less than useful because circumstances and conditions are always changing.

But they go beyond being flexible toward not having much of a direction at all, which can mean decisions are always made on the fly and often based solely on a “gut feeling.”

That’s not always a bad thing and it’s necessary sometimes. But when it becomes the status quo for decision-making in the operation, it’s time to try something different.

Four Ideas

Between these two approaches is the concept of creating plans for the farm business with built-in flexibility, all the while cultivating a flexible mindset as a leader. Here are four ways to start building more flexibility into your business.

1. Cultivate a flexible mindset. Bringing greater flexibility into your leadership mindset is the first and best step you can take toward increasing the flexibility of your farm business. The more flexible, agile and adaptable your approach, the easier it will be to come up with alternative plans and solutions in your business when you need to. You can start by encouraging yourself to think of creative alternatives: both when you come up against a roadblock and even when you don’t simply as an exercise. Gradually, you’ll begin to think of different alternatives more instinctively.

2. Always have a Plan B — and Plan C and Plan D. For any major aspect of your operation, it’s key to have solid plans that are based on good data, financial analysis and what you know at the time. However, in farming the situation is always changing, due to weather, the markets, regulations, the global economy, you name it. Also, the individual financial situation of the farm operation can shift rapidly, as well. Having backup plans and backup plans to those plans are key because they allow you to pivot quickly when you need to. When you’ve already thought through alternatives in a flexible way, you can implement them more quickly, making your business more agile and adaptable.

3. Let go of past expectations. Approaching your farm with flexibility means letting go of past expectations such as “this is the way we’ve always done it,” “here’s what we’ve always used” or “we get X done by a particular date.” Taking those expectations off yourself gives you more creative freedom to be a flexible problem-solver. Plus, it can lead to feeling less anxiety or fear about the farm and its performance, which is a good thing in general.

4. Control what you can. Work to impact and control what you can control by taking action. Most farmers find it feels good to take action to impact the farm’s situation. We need to lay careful groundwork first, if possible, by stepping back emotionally and assessing the situation. Then we have a good handle on what we can control and what we can’t, and work to create a plan of action around what we can do to improve things.

One area of the farm where farm leaders often say they like having a partner in making plans and building more flexibility is around the markets. Our market advisers assist farm leaders with marketing plans and execution. Get in touch with one now.

Darren Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions.

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