This week I got to spend a couple hours with some of the best farmers in the Southeast. It's an opportunity for them to share ideas and for me to learn things. The key is that we promise confidentiality for what they share, so they are more open with each other.
However, there are some things I picked up from there that I can share without breaking the confidentiality rules.
Cooperation matters. In the Midwest, with the dog-eat-dog contests for land where one farmer is quick to outbid another, are you missing an opportunity to really grow your business? In the business world they discuss "organic" growth versus growth by acquisition. Adding land is growth by acquisition, but "organic" growth is taking what you've already acquired and building on that. Several of the Southeast farmers in the group talked about how they had combined forces with others to create better business opportunities. And in many cases it was a win-win for their businesses.
Rechecking the middle man. I got a new perspective on who the "middle man" is when talking to these growers - and others over the years. Savvy producers are working on ways to take control of their own destiny, whether that's creating their own brands for products they raise and marketing direct; or buying equipment (often used) that allows you to do more on your farm rather than hire the service. That simply means the middle-man (no matter how you define it) should be adding value to your business, if not, a reevaluation may be in order.
Innovation requires investment. We're not talking dollars so much as energy. If you're going to innovate a business, you need the mental (and sometimes physical) energy to make things work. And you need to understand that failure is also a chance to learn and grow. How do you invest in the technology you have on the farm.
Opportunity exists in all businesses. Every farmer in the room could tell a story about some opportunity they explored that helped them build their business. It opens your eyes to the fact that even with low prices and global demand pressures, there are still ways to grow your business, or seek out new income sources.
Hope means something. This group, like others I've spent time with over the years, shows that today's farmer - in the face of rising regulations, dealing with the headwinds of lower prices and even working through personal family tragedies - will keep on farming. Sounds kind of like common sense, but I am sure in other businesses facing some of the same challenges, the choice would be to try something else. Gives me hope for the future.
As for that secret weapon teased? The most powerful tool at work for agriculture and agriculture technology today remains a tool you've been using well for years - your brain. The key is connecting the dots through cooperation, innovation and energy.