The following information is a Web Extra from the pages of Top Producer. It corresponds with the article "Eternal Wisdom." You can find the article in Top Producer’s Spring 2013 issue.
In 2000, Top Producer began its Top Producer of the Year contest. Every year since, one outstanding producer has been recognized. Below are some words of advice from these successful producers.
When Marty Klinker was named the first-ever Top Producer of the Year, he was not yet 40. He was young enough to have ambitious goals, and old enough to know it would take a strong business plan to reach those goals. One of his stated goals was to have $1 million of structured debt by the time he was 30, so he would be worth more than $1 million when he turned 50. "Everything I had needed to be an income-producing asset," he says. "I wanted structured, not obnoxious, debt. I wasn’t afraid of debt, and I’m not now either."
Klinker says he has many sayings that he is constantly repeating to his employees and kids. They refer to them as "Martyisms." One of his favorites is: egos let a lot of things happen that common sense should never allow. "That transcends everything," he says. "I tell people that all the time. It works in finances, purchases, relationships, family battles, everything."
"Swing for the fences," says Ben Riensche of Blue Diamond Farming Company. "I’m not saying you should forget about managing risk, but set your sights higher than you can imagine. You might just get there." The 2001 Top Producer of the Year says his thinking in the early years was shaded by the events of the 1980s and early 1990s, and that he reached his goals much faster than he ever anticipated.
Riensche also encourages young producers to build a quality peer network. "Include the best farmers you know that operate outside of your area so you don’t compete," he says. "Everyone involved will encounter about the same challenges, except at different times. You will find it valuable to be advised by your colleagues and later advise."
Socializing with other outstanding farmers is another important component. "Make sure they visit your farm frequently," Riensche says. "You are probably moving at a different pace and path than most. Your connections with them will help your family and team understand why you march to the beat of a different drum."
Looking back Dean Folkvord says whenever they bought another farm or took on another lease it was always controversial. "Somehow it always worked out favorable," he says. "We’ve never bought farmland for what we thought was a bargain price. Yet, overtime, the land was always a good investment." Folkvord says the same holds true with leases. "Sometimes, it really taxed our equipment and time, but eventually it justified bigger and better equipment, which made the whole operation run smoother," he says. "My advice to young producers is to buy something when you are young and keep adding to it. Ag is a career where the benefits accumulate over the long run."
Today’s young farmers have been exposed to the constantly emerging world of technology since the day they were born, notes Brian Mitchell. "While new technology can be fascinating, it must also be cost effective for their farming operation," he explains. "Just because it is new technology, it must have a valid business purpose." Mitchell reminds that the leading edge of technology can also be the bleeding edge. "We are in the business of farming," he says. "If you manage the business first, then you can enjoy the life of a farmer."
Steps for executing your dream: 1) Dream or develop a vision for what you wish to do. 2) Develop a plan to execute your vision. 3) Execute on the plan. 4) Finally, and this might be the most important part, be brave.
"I emphasize bravery because most will say what you are trying to do cannot be done, that is not the way we do things, you will be broke in six months, etc.," Irsik says. "Many things will stand in your way, but be smart, look, listen, join in activities of all types, develop your network and mentors."
Every community has mentors. It could be your mother, father or uncle. Irsik says to look for the gray-haired person who will help you. "There are many opportunities in agriculture," he says. "I think more than when I started 40 years ago. Opportunities don’t necessarily need to be the traditional thing. Get out of the box, and look and study what the new opportunities might be."
If the clock turned back and Chad Olsen were to start fresh again, he would put more emphasis on more accurate bookkeeping. "It’s a key element in our operations today," he says. "Back then, I just wanted to be in a tractor and figured things would just work out." Olsen learned the hard way that it’s an absolute must when trying to develop a partnership type of relationship with your banker. "Sometimes, I had to sell some grain because I needed a buck," he says. "I knew there would be a better time in the future to sell it, but I didn’t have a good enough relationship with my banker at the time because of my lack of record keeping.
"If I could go back in time, I would have been more profitable in my early years had I dedicated myself to more time at a desk."
Practice making lots of decisions and hope it’s the little ones that are wrong, says Dave Minich. "Be careful what you build because change and time will require you to tear them down someday," he says. "If you’re never forced to take a risk, you probably won’t go very far. Keep your health and family risks to a minimum the rest is a gamble."
To help with that gamble, Minich encourages farmers to build on their talent, and hire the best for the rest. "You have to be religious to be a farmer," he says. "Encourage your kids to do what they like best, eventually, and let them make some mistakes. Spend time training young people who are interested in farming." If one wish were granted to Minich, he would have gotten out of livestock sooner. He says it’s important to continually plan and then be willing to change the plan.
In the mid- to late-90s, this Kansas farmer reached a benchmark. "When I hit 10,000 acres, the economies of scale kicked in," says Lon Frahm. "Everything fell into place and I could afford to do lot of stuff in-house."
Frahm knows acquiring land is a huge challenge for young farmers, but his advice is to be persistent. "The first quarter is the hardest," he says. "Then, you can use the first one for leverage to buy the second, and then it can grow from there."
As Frahm closes in on three decades of farming, his focus has shifted away from acquiring land. "I don’t have an acreage goal," he says. "It’s more about lifestyle." He says that can vary from working fewer hours on the weekends to going on a nicer employee trip to spending a few more minutes with his employees during their morning coffee breaks.
This Mid-South farmer says relationships are key. "Get to know the right people," DeLine advises. "Listen to neighbors and farmers who have been in the business for years; work to build relationships versus just trying to offer the highest bid; and surround yourself with good people."
DeLine who regularly attends Top Producer Seminar says you have to think outside of the box. If you can’t get involved at the state or national level or get away from the farm, DeLine encourages you to get involved in your community with 4-H or FFA. This will only help in your relationship building, he says. "If you work to build the right relationships—that’s half the battle," DeLine says. "It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only a few minutes to ruin it. Stick to your word and treat people right."
"I am convinced that change creates opportunity," says Gregg Halverson, the 2012 Top Producer of the Year winner. "We cannot be afraid of change; we should embrace it."
Thanks to Halverson’s father, he knows the importance of taking the time to do it right the first time. "It doesn’t matter if it’s in the barn, on the tractor or in the office, it is much more efficient and productive to do a job once rather than relying on a do-over," he says.
His last piece of advice for young farmers is to surround yourself with the best people possible. "Hire the best at all levels in your company, no matter the size," Halverson says, noting that he believes more in this every day.