I ask this question at every school I teach. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the producers respond by telling me about the primary profit centre of their operation. They are in the cow-calf business, the stocker business, the sheep business, the custom grazing business or maybe the purebred business. I would not consider these businesses but simply primary profit centres within your business.
What is the purpose of your business?
Years ago when I started into my agricultural career I bought some cattle. I was in the cow business. I soon realized that cows are only tools in my business and the key to profitability is to manage the grass.
I then became a grass farmer. I developed my knowledge in grass management and soon found out that I needed to take one more step in my agricultural evolution. I found out that the health of the soil is very important to having healthy pastures. The chemical, physical and biological health of the soil became my focus. Water-holding capacity, residue, soil microbial life and nutrient recycling became a focus in my operation.
So now I was a dirt farmer. The soil takes care of the grass, the grass takes care of the cows, and the cows take care of what? Hmmm, are we done?
Whether you consider yourself a beef producer, a grass farmer or feedlot operator I still do not believe that is your real business.
I am by no means an expert in any of this but I figured out that in the end, the profit centres that I choose were just a means of cash flowing my business. You might disagree with me but I finally realized that it does not matter what profit centres I choose because I am in the business of raising children.
What is the purpose of your business?
Our mission statement is “Economic and environmental sustainability for generations.” This is a powerful statement to me. It gives our business a purpose. All our goals are focused towards this one statement. “For generations” means that no matter what our profit centres are, our business needs to make sure that it can still be operational 50 to 100 years down the road. It has to be sustainable.
This might mean that our business needs to be flexible and adaptable so having the ability to change is an advantage that I wish to maintain in my business. However, nothing is sustainable without a second generation coming in behind.
In my grass management I want to make sure I have a second generation of seedlings filling in to maintain healthy and sustainable forage. In my forest management, I need to have a second generation of saplings establishing in order to maintain the sustainability of the forest. For our agricultural businesses to be sustainable is it not important to have a second generation of farmers coming in behind?
To remain sustainable I believe I have to show my kids two things: that an agricultural business can be profitable, and that we can have a lifestyle that is enjoyable.
Environmental sustainability is pushed on us from every direction. As farmers we are expected to clean the water and clean the air, and do all these wonderful things to help maintain the health of our planet. I am not disputing any of that. I am proud that we can do these things for our urban cousins. But I know for a fact that I can be environmentally sustainable and I can go broke doing it.
If we want to be economically sustainable I believe we must first be environmentally sustainable. If I harvest all the nutrients out of the soil and degrade our environment in the process to make a few bucks, my farm is not sustainable.
For my kids to make a living in agriculture, I have to take care of my resources and build the soil. I have to improve the environment in order for them to be profitable down the road.
So we need to be both economically and environmentally sound, but I’m not done yet. I also have to teach my kids these skills to ensure they can remain sustainable. I read a statement years ago that I really liked. “Farm like you will live forever and live like you will die tomorrow!”
I need to educate my children about my business, all aspects of my business. They need to understand the economics, the finances, the human resources, the environmental side and the production side. Most kids get to learn about the production side. I also need to teach them morals and values, right from wrong. They need the life skills required to survive in this world and they need to be adaptable because the one thing we know for sure is that change will always occur.
We also have to enjoy life. If Dad is always working 18 hours a day and never sees his kids, what is the point?
I love the lifestyle we have on the farm but it did not take me long to determine that if I want to make a living out of agriculture, I better learn some business management skills. We have to make a profit to be sustainable. It is wonderful that we can raise our kids on the farm but if we lose the farm in 15 years, or the kids don’t want to be a part of it later on, we are not sustainable and this lifestyle will be lost. Do you want your grandkids to be raised with the same lifestyle you have?
It has to be economical and enjoyable. My kids help on the farm but we have fun while we work. They are 10, nine and five years old and they make $2 per hour. I am rarely too busy to stop and throw rocks into the dugout or look for tadpoles. Did you know it is fun to shoot cows with a water pistol? We also need time after the work is done to play.
I am very fortunate to have the time to raise my children. Because of the business management skills I have learned we have the time and money to enjoy our lifestyle. These are skills I need to pass down to my children so that they too will have the opportunity to raise my grandkids in the lifestyle we all brag about.
This is my farm business and I love it!
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