Top Tips For Young Farmers In Fall 2016

August 16, 2016 01:42 PM

Commodity prices have swung wildly this year. Yet rather than focusing on uncertainty in the marketplace, young farmers at the 2016 Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference in Nashville zeroed in on factors that will keep them on track.

“Producers 40 and under represent the future of agriculture,” says Sara Schafer, editor of Top Producer. “Because of the need to serve this generation with actionable business information, we expanded the event to two days, hosting nearly 140 attendees from 23 states.”

More than 20 expert speakers addressed topics such as best management practices, collaborative farming enterprises and financial planning. Chris Noble of Noblehurst Farms in Pavilion, N.Y., received recognition as this year’s Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award winner. Here are more highlights from the event. 

Thank You to Our Sponsors: Premier sponsors: AgriGold, Barnstorm, Bayer, Cargill, Case IH, Channel, Dow AgroSciences, Farmers Business Network, IntelliFarms, Pioneer,, Syngenta, Tyson Foods Local Grain Services and Verdesian. Co-sponsors: AgroLiquid, AgYield and Farm Credit Mid-America.

Overheard on Twitter

“Met a lot of great people and learned a lot from great speakers at Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference #FarmingForward16” —@kmorrow63 

“Weather experts seem to have consensus on above-normal heat, which has @MRRChip worried for possible corn damage later. #farmingforward16” —@topproducer360 

“Great week with innovative, inspiring young farmers at Tomorrow’s Top Producer in Nashville. #farmingforward16” —@johngladigau

“88% of farms and agribusiness owners have no retirement plans @shanferrell #farmingforward16” —@topproducermag  

@johngladigau says hiring specialists in areas where you are deficient will help your farm succeed #FarmingForward16” —@croptellscott

By Chris Bennett and Sara Schafer

Would the Sharks Back Your Farm?

If you were standing in front of the hard-hitting, business-savvy investors on TV’s “Shark Tank,” how would you pitch your farm business? 

“You aren’t running a small shop,” says Tommy Grisafi, commodity risk management adviser for Advance Trading. “You’re running a business with huge numbers. Your farms are complex organizations.”

He suggests answering these questions about your business:

What are your sales? The more a business can scale, the better.

What do you bring to the table? Be able to highlight a record of success or the reason you’re dynamic enough to justify the gamble.  

Why the big valuation? Investors want a big equity stake for the smallest investment possible. Justify your value logically and in detail.

Is your product unique? Build an excellent case for why your product or service can beat out competitors.

How much debt do you have? If your business is funded by money you have to pay back, you must justify it and know the terms of the loan.

How much inventory do you have? One of the best signs of a well-run business is small inventory of product. 

What are your costs? Gauge your capacity for high margins, strong demand or both. 

By Sara Schafer

Confront Conflict to Avoid Risks 

 To be successful in business and life, producers need  to learn to not take themselves too seriously—and to  laugh a lot. That’s the message Walt Coleman, an NFL  referee and controller at Hiland Dairy, shared in  Nashville. He relayed stories of calls that forever  altered the course of playoffs and explained how to  manage around hostility with a smile. 

When people work together, conflict will occur, and that’s neither good nor bad, explains Carolyn Rodenberg, owner of Alternatives to Conflict, a communication consulting firm based in Lynchburg, Va.

“People often fear conflict because it can lead to broken relationships or destroyed businesses,” she points out.

To manage conflict, Rodenberg suggests farmers:

  • Create clear boundaries between business relationships and family relationships.
  • Define a process so everyone involved agrees how the family business should operate.
  • Frame conversations with family members as owner-to-owner or employee-to-employer.
  • Clarify business roles as well as responsibilities.
  • Express promises and exp-ectations so nothing is left for assumptions. 
  • Communicate to family members, not about them. 
  • Face misunderstandings and develop reasonable solutions. 

“In family businesses, we assume we are understood because we are family,” she says. “Challenging conversations are avoided hoping things will get better.”

Yet if untreated, conflict will grow and cause negative consequences to your business and family relationships. “Stuffed thoughts and feelings do not disappear. … They will eventually appear and conflict will result,” Rodenberg says. Her final piece of advice: Keep your words soft and tender. You might have to eat them.  

For speaker presentations and details on the 2017 Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference, visit

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