A New Crop of FreshRoots


As a longtime student and adult educator, I particularly enjoy and find fulfillment leading many young and beginning farmer learning programs nationwide. One of my favorites is FCI’s FreshRoots programs. The Board of Directors and management team have made a special point as a cooperative to invest in beginning farmers and the future of agriculture.

This summer FCI hosted a two-day program in St. Louis near Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Cardinals. Attendees heard information and insights on economics, finance, business, and agriculture trends with practical actions for improving business, family, and personal life. They also enjoyed a Cardinals game and networking with peers.

The changing dynamics occurring amongst young and beginning producers were apparent. There were many attendees from third, fourth, and fifth generation farms where cousins are often managing with cousins, which requires a higher level of business formality. There were also attendees with startup enterprises, which may require multitasking with other sources of income and networking opportunities.

Participants enjoyed the opportunity to get away from day-to-day activities to recharge their mental batteries. They not only picked up new ideas from others, but confirmed some of the production and management practices they utilize.

The participants completed the business IQ proficiency assessment. Their Farm Credit relationship manager also completed the assessment separately, promoting discussion to develop strategies and actions for improving the farm business over the next year. The top management proficiencies discovered through this exercise were that they knew their cost of production and many completed cash flow projections.

This bodes well for this group who encounter a wide range of volatility in prices, costs, and interest rates, and must make decisions objectively rather than emotionally. Of course, the cash flow and cost of production metrics also assist in objective decision-making.

Another proficiency observed in this year's attendees was a commitment to continuous learning. I recommend attending five programs, listening to five to 10 podcasts and webinars, and reading at least five books annually for personal growth. Goal setting and maintaining a positive attitude also round out the list for this year's attendees.

As couples and partners completed the assessment, nonverbal communications, critical thinking, and open communications were observed. After the assessment was completed, the following group results were summarized:

  • Many participants were involved with numerous enterprises. Thus, separate enterprise budgets were needed to allocate capital resources to the most profitable uses.
  • Many wanted to develop and execute a marketing and risk management plan that is monitored throughout the year and benchmarked to previous years.

In today's uncertain and volatile economic climate, financial sensitivity analysis of cash flow budgets is a high priority. Scenarios for production, price, costs, and interest rate changes were seen as a high priority with this year's group. In addition, a written plan for improvement with detailed goals for both the short and long-term is critical. Short-term goals are focused on completion in less than one year and long-term goals are focused beyond one year. Whether it was inventory, documentation, compliance, or business and family living budgets, improvements in record-keeping, storage of records, and having them in an accessible format is a high priority.

Many side conversations resulted in nuggets of Wisdom from this new crop of FreshRoots participants.

  • Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing. Focus on your own business. You may be in chapter 1 of your business journey, and they may be in chapter 10.
  • Don’t be consumed by the here and now. Be coachable and willing to learn.
  • Network outside your normal contacts. Sometimes being nice to a neighbor creates opportunities, fosters new ideas, or results in a mentoring relationship.
  • It’s not always about farming more acres and having more livestock, but doing better with what you have.
  • Revisit your business and financial plan throughout the year. Be flexible, adaptive, creative, and open to change.

I encourage young and beginning farmer readers of this column to sign up for an upcoming FCI learning program. I guarantee the experience will sharpen both business and life skills that will expand your network of positive, proactive people.

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