Top of Mind

February 3, 2010 06:00 PM

My You've Changed!

During the holidays, friends marveled at how my three children have changed in the course of the year. I'm always surprised by these comments—they look the same to me! Obviously, I see them day to day and it's hard to gauge change when you're staring it in the face.

The same can be said of agriculture. Farmers forget how much they've changed with the adoption of technology and management skills. For some, there's only a generation or two between the horse reins and auto-steer.

My recent visit with Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M University ag economist and director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP), really drove this home. During the past 20 years 1,300 producers have attended the program, accounting for 5% of U.S. agriculture output, Klinefelter says.

The opportunity to engage these top producers year after year gives Klinefelter an unique perspective on how farmers have changed since 1990.

He finds TEPAP farmers more complex, with most operating as multientity, multifamily businesses. The attendees today are younger and typically aren't just farm kids but college-educated professionals in management positions running multimillion dollar businesses. There are also noticeably more women in the program.

Today, producers are more sensitive to the macro economics of agriculture and have knowledge of international economics and other commodities, he says. They are sophisticated in personnel management and offer creative compensation structures.
"It's a completely different type of producer managing the farm today than 20 years ago,” he says. "But they are still managing a family farm.”

Changing Times. This month's Top Producer magazine is all about change: from how weather and markets are altering planting plans to how the hog industry could face a paradigm shift in profitability. Several articles showcase new technology ushering us into the new decade. Our cover subject, Dave Nelson, from Fort Dodge, Iowa, transformed his life forever by leaving corporate America to become a farmer.

History has given us enough examples to know that change for change's sake doesn't work. Top producers must be contemplative and sort the wheat from the chaff when making business decisions in this new era of agriculture. It is good to remember what Winston Churchill once said: There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.

Jeanne Bernick
Editor of Top Producer

Top Producer, February 2010

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