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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
* 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
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.