Many farmers feel it is challenging to figure out how to share their knowledge of farming with the next generation. There's so much to pass on. It can be hard to get started.
Planting season gives us one opportunity to train our future leaders. Some farmers use it as a "training ground" for the next generation – teaching them the processes, getting them to the point where they can handle it themselves.
You know which springtime tasks need to be learned on your farm. Seed placement decisions, planter and planter unit calibration, seed bed condition assessments, populations, soil fertility and herbicide decisions – and the actual process of planting.
Each person in your operation is probably at a different knowledge and experience level. Maybe one of your kids recently came back to the farm and this will be his first planting season. Or you have a young employee who has been involved in the operation for several years – and you have plans for him to eventually lead the operation in the future.
Start by asking yourself what they already know. Think about some of the areas where they have more experience and knowledge – and the areas they haven't worked in very much yet. A future leader may already have a lot of experience running the tractor – but not as much with the pre-planting decision making. Involve him in helping to make those decisions.
First, have him shadow you through main tasks and decision-making. The greatest learning usually happens where the doing is taking place. Hearing you "think out loud" as you're making a decision can teach him a lot.
Otherwise, he sees your final decision, but not your thoughts and considerations that went into the decision. And hearing your line of thought and how you came to that decision is where he can really learn from you.
Next it's time to start asking him for his input. Ask things like: "What do you think the potential outcomes could be for this field if we plant it today?" and "Will you review the fertilizer report with me and identify a plan going forward?"
Having people in your operation who are able to manage others and make important decisions is a win-win situation. The next generation learns while you're still around to guide them. You can even take time off if you want to because you know they can handle things.
What does the next generation of leaders on your farm need to learn to be able to run a successful planting season on their own? Prioritize and decide where you will start with them. When you feel they are ready, you could consider taking a day off during planting season to let them practice flying solo.
Darren Frye grew up on an innovative, integrated Illinois farm. He began trading commodities in 1982 and started his first business in 1987, specializing in fertilizer distribution and crop consulting. In 1994, he started a consulting business, Water Street Solutions to help Midwest farmers achieve success through financial analysis, insurance, commodity marketing, and legacy planning. The mission of Finance First is to get you to look at spreadsheets and see opportunity, to see your business for what it can be, and to help you build your agricultural legacy. Contact Darren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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