We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

The shared traits of successful farmers and ranchers

"These traits of a successful ag operator. I think, apply to big and small ones, ones who raise either crops or livestock, and both conventional and organic producers."

GrandValeCreative4989.jpg
Having connections with other people and learning from others can both help increase the chances of agriculture success. Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC
We are part of The Trust Project.

Over the years, several nonfarmers have asked me how to tell if a farmer is doing a good job. I always gave a polite nonanswer: it seemed to me that the questioners were trying to check on a relative who farmed, and I wanted no part of their family intrigues.

But here, in a general context, I'll offer up my humble opinions. They're based on several factors: watching my father, a successful, now-retired North Dakota farmer and rancher; the MBA I earned four decades ago; and observing many solid and a few not-so-solid agricultural producers as they formulated and executed their decisions.

These traits of a successful ag operator. I think, apply to big and small ones, ones who raise either crops or livestock, and both conventional and organic producers.

Manage stress

Volatile weather and prices make ag inherently and unavoidably stressful. Federal ag programs can reduce, but never eliminate, the stress.

ADVERTISEMENT

Successful farmers find methods to manage stress, while still doing their work in a timely way. Maybe it's spending a little time with friends, or watching a sporting game on TV or in person. Whatever it is, find something that works for you.

Minimal complaining, bragging

In my experience, good farmers tend to brag the least about their accomplishments and also to complain the least about their challenges. Likewise, poorer farmers tend to brag the most when things go right and to complain the most when things go wrong. There are exceptions, of course, but I think there's definitely a correlation between success/failure and bragging/complaining.

Listen to specialists

Ever-evolving science and technology make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to know everything — or even most things — about modern ag. So be sure to listen to agronomists, ag bankers, Extension officials and other specialists. Every farm and every farmer is different, and specialists' advice won't always fit what you're doing. But following their advice will help you to make good decisions much more often.

Luck, good and bad

I once thought that good farmers make good decisions and consequently enjoy good luck while poorer farmers make bad decisions and consequently suffer bad luck. And, in fact, that's usually the case.

But not always. Weather and prices are so volatile that a spate of bad luck occasionally can overwhelm good decisions and a run of good luck can bail out poor decisions. It's not fair, but farming has never been fair. Never will be, either.

ADVERTISEMENT

Connections

Modern farmers need a connection, an "in," especially for farmland, to get started. Relatives, usually parents, often make financial sacrifices — in some cases huge ones — to support beginning ag operators. Free help from neighbors and relatives, especially at planting and harvest, can be vital, too.

Learn from peers

Wherever you farm or ranch, there are talented, successful farmers and ranchers nearby from whom you can learn. Watch what they're doing and figure out if you can incorporate it in your own operation.

Whatever small success I had in ag journalism came in part by learning from other journalists, with former Agweek and Forum of Fargo-Moorhead colleague Mikkel Pates topping the list. Thanks to Mikkel and the others for their unknowing help.

Astute readers have noticed the shared element in the traits I've mentioned: humility. Successful farmers and ranchers know they're not in it alone. They realize they need contributions from others, in one form or another, and occasional cooperation from the volatile and often unfriendly world in which they raise and market their crops and livestock.

That realization doesn't guarantee success, of course, but it surely will help.

Jonathan Knutson is a former Agweek reporter. He grew up on a farm and spent his career covering agriculture. He can be reached at packerfanknutson@gmail.com.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURERURAL LIFE
What to read next
Sept. 4 comes and goes with a blur for many. For me there are three dates: Sept. 4, 1863; Sept. 4, 2016, and Sept. 4, 2022. This is really about the Indian Wars, which continue. I think it’s time to end the Indian Wars. It’s also time to understand that forensic facts, are not “critical race theory,” they are what happened. As school begins, let us ensure that history is taught, and that we make good choices today.
Election administrators and judges are part of the community. We are your neighbors and co-workers, people you see at church on Sunday or in line at the grocery store. I believe I speak for all election officials when I say we are honest citizens who want to serve our community to the best of our ability.
"I know 125 years isn't a long time in the whole scope of human history, but it's pretty impressive for this part of the world. What's more impressive to me is that the town hasn't just stayed alive but has recently found new and interesting ways to stay lively."
It is not safe or legal for farmers to load hay on a state highway.