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Holistic Ranching: Planning ahead

Questions to help guide your future operation

farmer with bales in a field

Winter tends to be a slower season. This might be an ideal time to invest some of our time and energy into planning ahead. Have you ever considered the benefits of making a good written five-year plan?

I know some people are averse to planning. A common comment is: “why bother to make a plan?” Things are always changing. Plans never work out. Actually it is because things are always changing and uncertain that it is important to have a plan. If everything is stable and predictable planning ahead would be unnecessary. Allan Savory the man who developed H M has a military background. One of the examples Allan uses to stress the importance of planning is: imagine you are in charge of an army. You meet with your top general and ask: “what is your plan?” The general replies, “oh things are uncertain so we just go day to day with no plan.” I suspect you would replace the general immediately. Agriculture is a very uncertain, risky business. How many of us foresaw the drought of 2015? How many of us foresaw prices for calves and yearlings declining by $200 to $300 a head in the August to October time period? Having a plan to deal with the variables is essential.

Another common excuse for not developing a written plan is: oh, I have a plan in my head. It is a proven fact that planning in your head is not as effective as a written plan. A plan in your head is not nearly as easily shared with your spouse or working partners.

A third excuse is I don’t have the time. If you feel like this I ask you to challenge yourself. Planning is not urgent but it is important. Spending your time doing the urgent is not nearly as effective as spending your time doing the important. Remember thinking and planning pay more than working.

A good five-year plan will assess where we are, where we want to go and how we might get there. This kind of information about our businesses is extremely valuable.

My suggestion is to make a plan for your people, your land and your money. When you do this nothing will be left out. You will have a blueprint of how you want to proceed to create the future you desire.

A five-year plan will be very personal. The plan will vary greatly as each family and farm is unique. Obviously I can’t foresee what your plan should be. However, I want to give you some ideas to help stimulate your thinking.

Let’s begin with the people.

Possible questions about people:

  1. How old will I be in five years?
  2. How many years have we been married?
  3. How old will my children be?
  4. How content am I with my quality of life?
  5. What will I do to improve myself?
  6. What will I do to improve and strengthen our team?
  7. Do I have a son or daughter who might like to take over my business?
  8. Do I want someone to take over from me?
  9. Would I consider giving a non-family member an opportunity to take over?
  10. Do I have an up-to-date will?
  11. Do I have an estate plan?
  12. Other questions that come to mind.

Possible questions about the land:

  1. Could I manage my land better?
  2. Do I have the skills and knowledge to manage better?
  3. Should I increase or decrease my land holdings?
  4. Should I consider relocating?
  5. Other questions that come to mind.

Possible questions about finances:

  1. Am I comfortable with my current debt load?
  2. Would I benefit from more or less debt?
  3. Is my business as profitable as I wish?
  4. Do I know my costs?
  5. Are my overheads too high?
  6. Is my gross profit strong?
  7. Do I have the right mix of enterprises?
  8. Is my business sustainable?
  9. Is my business profitable enough to involve the next generation?
  10. Other questions that come to mind.

Answering these and similar questions will give you a good idea of where you want to be in five years. The next step might be to develop an action plan. This will be a series of concrete steps that you will take in the next six months, the next year and the next three years so that in five years you can look back with satisfaction and say: a job well done. There is a great deal of satisfaction in achieving your plans.

I wish you success in creating the future you desire. Planning is a great tool to get there. Happy trails.

About the author


Don Campbell

Don Campbell ranches with his family at Meadow Lake, Sask., 
and teaches Holistic Management courses.



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