Firsthand insights from business leaders
Young farmers are hungry for learning opportunities, leadership and new business ventures. They aren’t afraid to initiate bold diversification pushes that can stabilize future revenue streams for their families and team members. And they take risks.
At the same time, they need to invest in a good night’s sleep to ensure clarity of decision-making. They can dig into farm data to become better financial managers, and they must put customers’ interests first. That’s the assessment of past winners of the Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award.
In honor of our first-ever young farmer issue, we connected via the “Top Producer Podcast” with
Joanna Carraway (2013 Horizon Award winner), Jeremy Weaver (2014), Matt Sims (2015) and Chris Noble (2016). Our questions focused on teachable moments they’ve encountered during their careers, why they’ve diversified to win in the long term and competitive advantages young farmers bring to the industry. They also shared their perspectives on the farm economy and the value of goals.
Best Advice: I wish early on someone had sat me down and gone over budgets and financial management: how much your revenue is per crop, exactly what you expect on income and what you expect to put into that crop for everything. Also, continuing education is so important.
Competitive Advantage: Younger producers tend to be more willing to adapt to new technology, new systems and even new crops. We do soil samples on 2.5-acre grids; variable-rate fertilizer and variable-rate lime. Older generations would apply about 2 tons per acre of lime. We saved a lot of money, and we were better stewards of our resources.
Diversification Tips: Look for ways to do it without investing a lot of capital. We grow white corn that offers a premium.
Quotable: Right now, the farm economy is in a standstill. A friend who sells equipment said, “Everybody is just holding tight.”
Best Advice: Try to diversify as much as possible. There are a lot of producers out there that wish they had however-many-acre farms, but their dads or grandpas or uncles are still in the farm and there’s not enough room for the younger generation to come in right now. Take an off-farm job. Do whatever you can to get back on the farm.
Competitive Advantage: We grew up with computers. Technology is changing so much in farming. To the younger generation, it’s almost like second nature. Bring that wealth of knowledge and make your farm more efficient.
Diversification Tips: There are drone and scouting companies popping up all over the place, soil-fertility companies and other things young producers can get into, whatever your skill set is.
Quotable: Make your presence known if farming is what you want to do.
State Line, Ind.
Best Advice: My stepdad, Mark Wright, and I started dividing roles a few years after I joined the operation. The success we’ve had has really just grown unbelievably. It’s a role that I really love, and I think it’s the one I excel at.
Competitive Advantage: I rely on a lot of very smart people to help me make decisions—the machinery side, the agronomic side and the financial side.
Diversification Tips: Know where you’re at financially. That allows us to come up with plans for marketing. We were very aggressive at marketing ahead in the bull market that sometimes didn’t reward us as we continued to rally from 2008 through 2012 for the majority of that time. In the downturn, the fact that we are aggressive marketers enables us to see profit and make those sales. I think it has rewarded us.
Quotable: We have long-term goals, we have short-term goals. We have annual targets for the percentage of profit we’re looking for, the annual growth we’re looking to accomplish. We have day-to-day goals. We have staff meetings in the morning. Goals are a huge part of what we do. You have to know what you’re shooting for to figure out how you want to get there.
Best Advice: Sleep on it. In this age of constant connectivity, it’s tempting to react quickly to opportunities that can have a large impact on your business and your bottom line. Don’t fall into that trap. It’s amazing how well your brain can really sort out those things you’re considering after a good night’s rest.
Competitive Advantage: The under-40 crowd is hungry. You’re excited about the business, you’re excited about farming. You have time to take on a higher level of risk because if things don’t work out, then you have some time to make it up.
Diversification Tips: Look to consumers to provide those opportunities. Also look at your business and think, “OK, what are the types of things I might want to get involved in that can complement our operation?” Write down the SWOT analysis that they teach you in school: strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats. What makes your business or community strong? Play your business out along those strengths.
Quotable: If you’re in a position where you’re seeking out opportunities, opportunities will come to you. Once you’re in that mode, it’s just a matter of trying to flush out what is your strategy for attacking them.
For additional insights from these young producers and farm business experts on the “Top Producer Podcast,” visit TopProducer-Online.com.