June 15, 2021

Frye: What makes a professional farm?

What first comes to mind when you see the words professional farm? Maybe it’s a picture of an imaginary, but great-looking operation: brand new shop, the latest equipment, great bin set-up, everything in tip-top shape.

Or, maybe it’s an actual farm that you’ve seen before or know about. Or, perhaps it’s even your own operation.

Thinking about the idea of a professional farm can bring up different thoughts for different people. When I think about that phrase, I think less about what the operation physically looks like and more about what’s going on with the business side and how the farm is being run, because the physical side will follow accordingly.

Running a professional farm these days requires a lot on the part of the farm leader: much time and attention to leading and managing the operation on the CEO level. It means taking a business-minded mentality that is all about making improvements, bit by bit, in every area of the operation.

What They Do

Farm leaders who want to get to the next level and run a really professional operation strive for a few things in common. These don’t have to do with the size of the operation, in terms of acres, gross revenue or number of side businesses.

Mostly, it has to do with the mindset that the leader intentionally takes and helps bring into all aspects of the operation, while they stand at the helm. They uncover what’s working, what’s not working yet and what further improvements they can bring in.

Four Keys

Here are four ideas that farm leaders can focus on to build a professional farm.

1. Be strategic. Farm CEOs who run their operations from a strategic high-level vision that helps inform all their decisions, and the decisions of others in the operation often find more success as they work to improve their farms. Having a roadmap plan that’s in line with the farm owners’ core values brings a sense of where the farm is headed, as well as how everyone can help it get there. With these goals for the future are also timelines and plans to achieve them.

2. Work on efficiency. In a commodity business like farming, efficiency is the key. But efficiency doesn’t apply only to production and the decisions you’re making around it. All aspects of the farm benefit from a look at becoming more efficient, whether that means you can save time through something like incorporating more standard operating procedures within the operation or working with an adviser, or save money by taking a second look at different vendors you’re using. The areas where you can investigate and implement new efficiencies on the farm are endless, but they do require the leader’s attention.

3. Run it by the numbers. Those who want to run a professional farm are constantly running the farm’s business decisions by the numbers. They are in tune with where their operation is at financially all throughout the year. They create and use metrics that are specific to their operation, that give them a clear view of how things are going. They create and use projections with multiple scenarios for a crop year and then update them as the year goes on. These farmers have flexible marketing plans that can change and adapt as the market reveals more information. They make marketing decisions based on their farm’s financial information and the unique needs of their operation.

4. Train future leaders. Your farm’s successor leader needs to be involved alongside you as you work on the farm’s business side. This will help them understand how you balance the operational needs of the farm with the business management needs that continue even during busy seasons. If you work with a market adviser on your marketing plans and decisions, be sure to involve your future leader as you discuss marketing decisions, including any phone calls or meetings.

One person you may want to include in your marketing decision-making process is a market adviser for your farm. You can get in touch with our group of market advisers — who work with farm leaders as the farmers build successful, professional operations — or get a free trial of our marketing information service by visiting www.waterstreetconsulting.com.

Darren Frye

Darren Frye is president and CEO of Water Street Solutions.