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Why Jay Hill Wears a Cap with His Name on It

“Are you doing this for your kids, so they can inherit your debt?” farmer Jay Hill asks a convention hall full of his peers at the recent Farmer 2 Farmer event in Omaha, Nebraska. If that’s not your goal, it’s time to think seriously about your farm’s future, he says. 

While many in agriculture are proud of their multigenerational heritage, farmers can no longer do things the way they always have. That’s why Hill has changed how he thinks about his own operation.

Track Your Thoughts

First, Hill realized even though operating machinery is his “happy place,” his time is more wisely spent making decisions as a businessman. He can teach someone to drive a tractor while he addresses bigger questions of marketing and vision for his farm.

He decided to write down those visions, and that has changed his operation. “I guarantee you, when you walk into that shower, or when you get into your pickup, or you sit down for your first cup of coffee, the first idea that you get to is going to be a pretty good idea,” Hill says. 

Farmer Jay Hill on stage at Farmer 2 Farmer in Omaha, Nebraska in 2019
Photo credit: Farmer's Business Network

Empower People with Clear Communication

Hill farms more than a dozen crops in two states and three counties. Depending on the year, he employs between 85 and 120 people. “How do you get there from a kid who grew up in a tractor tire sandbox and 10 acres?” Hill asks. It takes vision and people, he says. “It’s empowering people to understand what your final goal is.”

Hill says, “It doesn’t matter if you farm with you and your dad. No matter how many employees you have, if you can sit down and effectively communicate with them what the final mission is and listen to what they have to say, I guarantee you can be bigger than a Chinese trade war.”

Every week the whole team blocks out time for the farm’s Tactical Tuesday meeting, which gives members the chance to chime in and talk about what needs to happen to achieve the common goal. 

“Even if you live with the person who is your business partner, you need to carve out an hour every week on a specific day and say, this is what we need to look forward to,” Hill says. “Having that Tuesday talk will give you the opportunity to sit down and actually ask the question to your people: ‘Are we doing the best job that we can do as farmers?’”

This approach has allowed the farm to take a closer look at its role in larger conversations surrounding climate change, human rights issues, and mental health.

Connect to a Larger Conversation

Even if the connection to your commodity farm doesn’t seem apparent at first glance, it’s important that agriculture is heard on the huge topics our society is wrestling with, Hill says.

“Climate change is already upon us. It doesn’t matter where you sit on this thing. This thing is already on a rocket ship headed to the moon. Does anybody think we did a good job with GMOs?” Hill asks the silent room of farmers. “If you can’t prove that what you’re doing is bettering the environment, you’re going to feel the repercussions. If we can’t get together now and agree on something, that we’ve got to better our environment, the regulations are going to come down so hard on all of us, we’re going to be like Europe.”

Recently, Hill traveled to Denmark to speak at an agriculture event. There Hill says he met men at their breaking point because the government mandated they become carbon neutral by 2050 or stop farming.

“Does that mean the government is overreaching, or does that mean that the farmers have not done a good enough job of explaining what we do every single day to ensure that we do not have regulation that comes down and negatively affects us as growers?” Hill continued.

Talk in Terms of an Urbanite

Farmers tend to be humble. It can be taboo to talk about how much new machinery costs, or brag about improvements. Those are exactly the messages that need to be shared though, Hill says.

For example, Hill recently spent $52,000 on precision software for all the center-pivot irrigation rigs on his farm. The technology allows him to save 1.2 million gallons of water a day. For people in the ag industry, that may seem like a simple business decision. 

“Can you imagine being somebody who actually has to go down from their apartment and buy a gallon of water every couple of days to take back to their apartment?” Hill asks. Talking about efficient and sustainable farming practices in a way that is relatable is key to explaining the impact farmers can have.

Rock Your Cap

As he travels the country, Hill wears a cap with his own name artistically stitched across the front. While he admits it may seem pompous at first, Hill says, “You need to rock your own hat. How long do we work in an industry that we do all the marketing for? When you wake up in the morning and put on your favorite red, blue, green, whatever hat on and walk outside, who are you supporting, and who are you showing is an industry leader?”

By wearing his hat, Hill wants people to know that he is working in agriculture to change the world. “The world needs to know we are the solution, and we are not the problem.”

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