The Top Line

March 6, 2009 09:49 AM

The Ask Isn't Wrong

Sales lesson No. 1 is that you always have to ask for the sale at some point in order to get it. So why is it considered preposterous when farmers, whose business growth is often dependent on acquiring rental ground, ask a landowner to rent them his or her ground when somebody else is farming it? Aren't they just asking for the sale?

During the session "Finding Agriculture's Ethical Limit" at January's Top Producer Seminar, tempers flared when I explored this topic with Paul Lasley, chair of Iowa State University's sociology department; Farm Journal succession planning columnist Kevin Spafford; and Lime Springs, Iowa, farmer Tim Richter.

"I decided about three years ago my job was to ask," said Richter, who farms about 7,500 acres with his brother and another partner. "I don't say I'll give you X amount, but I tell landowners what we do. I tell them what information they'll receive from us. I ask that if they ever think about changing renters, to please think of us. You've got to at least let people know you're interested."

"I don't think it's unethical to ask," Lasley said. "Now, I do think there are times when it may be inappropriate to ask."

Joking while making a point, Richter responded, "Is that before or after the wake?"

I believe most agree that preying on landowners at a funeral, which has been done before, is not acceptable. But simply asking? Even that crosses the line in some people's minds. Others are conflicted because they want to grow, but feel they can't and still be a good citizen of the community. This was something the panelists understood, but didn't feel was that difficult to balance.

"Why would it be bad? And maybe that's the obvious question," Spafford pointed out. "I'm not sure who gets upset at the ask. The landlord couldn't be upset at the ask. But why would the current renter get upset? Is it because he's paying under the market rate?

"I may be throwing stones out there, and that's not the intent," he added. "But maybe the obvious question is: If we're upset because we're paying under a market rate, maybe the ask doesn't matter, because now who's not being ethical?"

Is it simply that those who are threatened by farm growth and who are making accusations of unethical behavior are actually living in glass houses? Or is farming immune from business reality?

Greg Vincent,

Top Producer, March 2009

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