I’m JUST a farmer

When I sit at a farmers table and start gathering information to create a ‘picture’ of the farming operation we go through my questions while I try to get a feel for the business.  When I get to the education and training section I will often hear my clients say, I have no formal education, I’m just a farmer.  It always gets a bit of a response from me, and as much as I don’t want to lecture, I can’t help but go into a bit of a rant that usually goes something like this.

So, you are just a farmer are you?  Do you run equipment? Do you weld? Do you do your own record keeping and filing of returns?  Do you market your livestock & grain?  Etc etc.  By the time I get to the 4th or 5th question I think they get my point.  There is no such thing as ‘just a farmer’ in this day and age.  Farmers have got to be the most diverse, versatile, and resilient bunch of people I know.

Just in case you are not a farmer, let me give you a bit of insight of the skills that the average farmer has to have to be successful.

  • Equipment Operating Skills – operating various agriculture and construction equipment
  • Technology Skills – setting up GPS, auto-steer systems, calibrating and setting equipment
  • Mechanic skills – maintenance and repair of machinery
  • Welding Skills – for fixing all the things that break, and they decide to make (ie. Panels, steel fencing, or whatever else they decide to invent)
  • Marketing Skills – finding the best price for their commodities, deciding to spot price or base on a futures contract.  Negotiating and managing contracts.
  • Production Skills – – knowing the kind of fertilizer, chemical, and seed that will produce the best results based on historical cropping rotations
  • Inventory Management Skills – keeping records of livestock and grain inventories and what is available to market and when
  • Cash Management Skills – matching sales and cash flows with debt servicing and expenses
  • Livestock Management – taking care of herd health, calving, breeding, herd culling, and other livestock related management duties
  • Construction – includes fencing and the construction of buildings, sheds, bins, and other structures as needed
  • Human Resources Management – any time farmers have employees (or kids/wives that work for free), there is management of people and tasks.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Today’s farmer is anything but ‘just a farmer’.  The proof is evident when most farmers try to enter retirement.  They think that they will have time to relax only to find themselves in high demand by farming operations, local businesses, and industry (oil & gas, mining, trucking).  Everyone knows if you want to find someone that is hard working, quick to adapt to any situation, and does not measure the day by the clock (but rather by tasks done), then hiring a ‘retired’ farmer is a great fit.

Farmers are humble, and rather than taking count of all their skills and attributes, they do what they do because it’s in their blood.  It is no longer a way of life, it is sophisticated business that requires a whole new set of skills that were not required 20 years ago, but it is still a way of living.  There is a soulful way that farmers live, and breath, and work.  The poverty mindset within the farming community is changing as well as the expectations to make money – and it’s about time.  (I could go on a rant about that whole piece, but that is for another time.)

So the next time you hear a farmer say ‘I’m just a farmer’,…please do me a favor and remind them of all the skills and strengths they have, and hopefully one day we will see a shift,…and when asked the question, they respond,…‘I’m proud to say – I’m a farmer’.



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