You may have heard me say this before, but I truly believe that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. There is so much knowledge on so many topics that I overwhelm myself with information sometimes. Just when you think you have a grasp on a subject, you learn something else about it that opens up a whole new area to explore and learn. Education has to be a desire. Never stop learning no matter how old or how wise you think you are.
One of the most common questions I receive at a conference or a seminar is, “Where did I go to university?” My first response is that academia does not have a monopoly on knowledge. I do not have a university degree. How is it then that I am asked to speak all over North America about ranching, business management and pasture plans? I believe private industry has more valuable information than any academic institution, if you look in the right place. I do not mean to downplay post-secondary education. I have two diplomas in agriculture from Lakeland College and I learned a lot there. All I’m saying is if you go to university or college, don’t stop there. Never stop learning, as other people’s experiences offer some huge lessons for you to learn.
I like to experiment a lot and I’m handy with a calculator. I try not to make the same mistake more than once. As I have learned from my mentors and teachers along the way, not repeating mistakes already made is a cheaper way to manage a business.
I have taken numerous schools and attended many different seminars and conferences over the past two decades and that is where I developed my business management skills. I found out along the way that production practices are not the key to a successful agricultural business. Business skills are. Human resources are crucial to my business because without it, I have no business. Getting customers, dealing with clients, acquiring land, dealing with employees are all more important for the success of my business than the actual production practices. It is more important than the species of grass to seed or which bull to buy. If the business is failing overall, does it really matter which type of grass is growing?
The economics and finances of my business are also crucial to my success. Before I learned these business skills, my business was always failing, even though I was really good at production practices. It is possible to be really good at something and still fail because you are doing the wrong thing.
- More from Canadian Cattlemen: Seizing the opportunity
I believe in giving credit where credit is due so here is a quick overview of my journey with a big thank you to all those mentioned below. I began my path learning Holistic Resource Management many years ago. (Now called Holistic Management) I attended a few seminars on it and read the book. I also had some great mentors that got me started. A special thanks to the Devon Club for allowing me into the group and letting me “pester” them for ideas. It is funny but I was unable to take the full course until a couple of years ago and it was a great review of the information that I had taught myself prior. This is an excellent course dealing with human resources, decision-making and grass management.
I also took the Ranching for Profit school many years ago and it was one of the biggest breakthroughs for my business. I learned the basics of a gross margin analysis. This is a very powerful tool that allows you to look into your business and see which parts are working and which ones are not. It also looks at human resources and the many sides of production. It will jam your head full of way more ideas than it can possibly hold.
I also attended the TEPAP course out of Texas. The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers was six days of business management skills. Not one speaker talked about production. This was a very informative course on business planning, human resources and strategic thinking.
I also had the privilege of attending Dick Diven’s Low Cost Cow/Calf School many years ago. This was a very informative course on beef production and nutrition. I am sorry to say that Dick passed away a few years ago and he is missed by this industry. The knowledge that he accumulated and shared with the world was incredible, and I highly recommend you look into his teachings. I’m sure you can Google him. He is well worth your time.
One of my greatest role models is a man by the name of Gerald Fry. I’ve only met him a few times but I learned a lot from taking his course and reading his books on genetics and cattle selection. But the one thing I learned from him, on top of the knowledge he shares, is his attitude as a presenter, an educator and a human being. You will never meet a more humble and down-to-earth teacher in agriculture. I was fortunate to spend a few days sitting around a fire just chatting with Gerald and learned a lot about the kind of person I wanted to be. I believe he reinforces my point behind this article. No matter how smart you are or how much wisdom you collect along the way, you never become an expert on anything because there is always more to learn.
On top of these few examples, I attend as many conferences and seminars as I can. I learn something at every one I attend. You learn to pick out the good stuff and let the rest trickle by. I’m lucky now as I am invited to many of these conferences as a speaker and at the same time get to continue my education from the other presenters.
I can also recommend a few books that will help you along your path. Anything by Jim Gerrish is well worth your time and I also learned a lot from reading books by Greg Judy and Allan Nation.
We are fortunate right now as agriculture producers because our leaders in government also recognize the value in education. I am happy to see that the Growing Forward 2 program in Canada has funds available to producers for education. It is different in every province so take a look at the Growing Forward 2 website for your province for details about funding available to you.
My business management skills are a blend of every speaker, teacher or mentor I have had, added to by every book, or magazine article I’ve read, rolled up into a package with all the mistakes I have made and all the schools I have attended. I will continue to evolve over time because as you know, I’ll never stop learning and, of course, I’ll never stop making mistakes. Wisdom is acquired with knowledge, not age. Don’t just age… gather wisdom over time.