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The family farm: Version 2.0

Jeff Caldwell 08/12/2011 @ 10:04am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

For generations, the organizational structure for family farms, or "Version 1.0," was simple: A patriarch or matriarch who ran the farm took on most of the management and authority and delegated to the younger generations.

"The world has changed, and we know it. The agriculture industry is changing," Farm business specialist and adviser Don Jonovic said Friday morning at the Generating Success conference in West Des Moines, Iowa. "This presents new challenges and new opportunities, and requires new learning and thinking."

For today's family farms, Version 1.0 isn't necessarily the best way to generate success. There's now a "Version 2.0" for family farm businesses, one that requires different management and leadership. Jonovic described the Version 2.0 family farm business in a chat at the Generating Success conference Friday morning. The event is presented by Successful Farming magazine, sponsored by Stine Seed and supported by Sukup Manufacturing.

"What it requires to become Version 2.0 of the family farm is a commitment to develop career paths and improve the leadership skills of everyone on the farm. What this requires is a new kind of farm manager." Jonovic said Friday. "It takes a commitment to help people come together with good ideas and make them happen."

How can your family farm execute that plan? It takes answering a few key questions, according to Jonovic:

  • Who among our family group has the potential to do this?
  • What is our "bench strength" or lack thereof in our team?
  • What are our retention issues?
  • Why do our people leave? Why don't they leave?
  • Could we survive the loss of today's key leader? How?
  • What skills are essential to the future of our farm?
  • Who has the potential to be the leader in the future?

"If we are going to be a growing business, we need to start thinking about who our true leaders of tomorrow are," he said. "I'm talking about those people who we may need to bring into the farm to help lead the family."

And, in the process, be brutally honest. The answers to the key questions in the transition to a Version 2.0 farm may not be what family members or business partners want to hear. But, if that transition is to be successful, don't be afraid to do it now to avoid strain down the road.

"We have to have a real farm strategy. What does this business need now and in the future?" Jonovic said. "We need a frank assessment of our people, their performance now and in the future, and a knowledge of their expectations and career interests now and in the future."

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