Top Talk

December 4, 2009 07:48 AM

What makes a good ag entrepreneur?


Don Macke, director of practitioner programs for the Rural Policy Research Institute's Center for Rural Entrepreneurship.

> A Bit at a Time

We're seeing a hybrid model where people in their 20s and 30s come back to their family's traditional commodity corn/soybean/livestock farm and use the equity they've got in the ground to free up some acres and experiment with a niche value-added market. That's the predominant type of rural entrepreneurship we're seeing now. At some point, the younger family members may break off and acquire land once they figure out the right combination.

We're seeing interest in groups as ways to get into niche crops and invest in value-added processing. While these are risky, there are collaborative benefits: the ability to pool capital, to hire expertise, to do the due diligence. Some production associations, even though they've had some trouble, are going to continue to be a vehicle for producers to come together and look at larger deals.


Leroy Shatto, Osborn, Mo., dairy farmer who sells his own bottled milk in the Kansas City market.

> Learn New Things

We just went for it. We didn't know if this was going to work or not. There are not too many people who do this, and we were one of the first.

You can do all the feasibility studies and market research you want, but you don't know until you get it to the store.

I'd been talking to cows for 34 years and now it was time to talk to stores and explain who we are, what we do and why we do it. That's been the fun part, actually.

Social networking is important to us now. We have more than 5,700 fans on our Facebook page. We can advertise if we've got a new product coming out or if we're going to be at a certain store to let people taste our product. It is really cool.

My head spins every day, but that's OK. We're not only making more money than we did, but I'm also having fun.


Danny Klinefelter, Texas AgriLife Extension ag economist and director of TEPAP.

> Innovation, Not Invention

An entrepreneur is a strategic manager—a person who tries to adapt to, anticipate, capitalize on and drive change. It means they're usually innovators. They see an opportunity and capitalize on it. The really good ones are calculated risk takers. They do their homework and look at options in case things don't work out as they expect, and they adjust on the fly.

The really good entrepreneur usually isn't a one-shot entrepreneur. His nature is to always look for a new opportunity. Too many people marry whatever they're into. Entrepreneurs continually reallocate and reevaluate assets and resources. If it goes well and there's an opportunity to sell, they'll take the premium and sell, and reallocate the resources to the next deal. A lot are willing at some point to share part of the ownership or, in fact, are willing to sell.


Andy Snider, corn, soybean and organic and antibiotic-free turkey grower in Hart, Mich.

> Teamwork Can Help

Our cooperative secured one-third of Panera Bread's total supply, 6½ million pounds this year. We're doing more and more business with Whole Foods for both the organic and antibiotic-free turkey. It'll never be a large percentage, but it's a niche we're able to cater to.

A group like the turkey co-op helps farmers be entrepreneurial. We don't know about the meat business, so we hired quality people to run our plant and market the meat.

We take every opportunity as it comes along and evaluate it. We don't say, "No, we don't do that," or "Yes, that's what we do." We look at each opportunity and carefully decide whether or not to pursue it.

Everybody has different circumstances, but you can't let new opportunities pass. Take a look and say, "Is this something that will take me farther down the road I want to be on?"

Top Producer, December 2009

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