January 28, 2021

Frye: How to move into ‘off-season’ mode

At this time of year on the farm, there’s a major shift in the air as the weather changes and we enter the winter season. The shift from fall and harvest toward winter means changing up our mindset, as well. We as farm leaders switch gears from the primarily doing mindset of harvest into the planning mindset of winter.

The Switch

Sometimes it feels challenging to make this shift. All growing season — and especially during harvest — we’re on the go. As we approach winter and need to plan for our next crop year, we might feel like we should just keep doing things instead. After all, there’s always something we could be doing in the winter, from working on equipment to hauling grain to cleaning the shop.

It can feel more comfortable to stay in the doing mindset when we’ve spent so much time in it over the previous months. There might even be feelings of anxiety or uncertainty around starting to think about the next growing season.

Shift Into Planning

Here are a few tips to help as you shift your mindset over to 2021 planning:

• First, reflect. After the fast pace of harvest, we might want to take a break completely from the farm or dive headlong into plans for 2021. Try this first: Set aside some time to take a break from directing operations. Use this as an opportunity to put your future leader temporarily in charge. Do something unrelated to the farm. Next, do some reflection on the 2020 crop year. What went well? What didn’t? What are your top goals for 2021? What changes do you want to make to your approach?

• Next, set your goals. To know where you need to focus, first you need to know where you want to end up. Having goals for different aspects of your farm business can be very helpful. Make sure the goals are specific and that they can be measured. Consider involving your team in the goal-setting process. Write the goals down and put them where everyone can see them and view the progress that’s being made.

• Finally, plan your winter. The winter “off-season” on the farm can quickly become busy if we’re not intentional about planning out our time. Carve out time specifically for planning in your schedule. Think about the key people you will need to meet with or talk to this winter to help with those plans. Planning out how you want to spend your off-season helps focus the time you have available into your top priorities.

Deal With Roadblocks

When you find yourself confronted with roadblocks to your original plan, take some time to work through these three steps:

1. Step back after your initial reaction. Most people in general will have a negative reaction to finding out that their plans didn’t work out. That’s understandable, but the real key is what you do next. Make sure to take the time to step back mentally from your initial reaction. Then, start getting your mindset ready to pivot toward a new, different solution.

2. Start thinking creatively. You might do this alone or with others, depending on your situation, time that’s available and leadership team. If it’s helpful for troubleshooting, start by analyzing what went wrong in the previous plan. Make sure to note which factors were under your direct control and which were not. Then you can start brainstorming about alternate routes. It’s ok if it’s something you’ve never done before in your operation.

3. Evaluate and choose. The length of time it takes to brainstorm can vary based on the size and complexity of the roadblocks and challenges to the plan. At some point, though, it will be time to start evaluating potential solutions and make decisions. Take the farm’s overall goals into account when evaluating solutions. You need to know what the “end game” is so you can aim all your major plans toward it.

One area of the operation where flexible, dynamic planning is essential is around the farm’s marketing and merchandising. You can get a trusted adviser to help with the marketing planning process for the 2021 crop year and beyond by getting in touch with our market advisers this winter.

Darren Frye

Darren Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions.