Are your Farm Business Management Skills Ready for the 21st Century?

By: Michael BoehljeCraig Dobbins​, & Alan Miller                                                                August 01, 2000


“Bob is one of the best farmers in the county.” This or a similar phrase is often used to describe successful farmers. Beyond expressing praise for the individual’s management skills, what does such a statement mean? If asked to produce evidence to support their statement about Bob, many would point to the fact that his fields are free of weeds and the field edges are well groomed. Others would point out that he uses the newest technologies, he has the latest machinery, and his machinery is well maintained. Some would cite the timely planting of crops each year and the track record of good yields. 

These production characteristics are important, but there are several other, less noticed and less talked about business management functions that farm managers of the future must perform in order to achieve success. And they must perform them well. In addition to being good production or plant managers, future farm managers must be skilled general managers. 

ID-237, Checking Your Farm Business Management Skills, another publication in the Farm Business Management for the 21st Century series, contains checklists for production, financial management, and personnel attitudes to help individuals make an assessment about the long-term outlook for the business. Using those checklists, readers are encouraged to shift their attention from surviving current financial problems to assessing the business management skills needed for long-run financial success. 

This publication provides lists of indicators and similar detailed checklists for each business function identified in ID-236, Farmers as Plant Managers and General Managers: Which Hat Do You Wear? Thus, it provides indicators and checklists for production, procurement and selling, financial management, personnel, strategy development, relationship management, leadership, and risk management. Many of these business functions are new for the farm manager, reflecting farming’s changed business environment. Farm managers need to perform these additional new functions if they are to become successful farm business managers. 

The checklists help you perform a self-assessment in each area discussed. These checklists are not scientific instruments to precisely measure skill levels or accurately predict your chances for success. Rather, they are tools to stimulate your thinking about the activities farm business managers must perform. Over time, they can help you to track your progress in developing business management skills. 

The scale used in these checklists ranges from “unsatisfactory” to “exceptional.” Unsatisfactory performance could be performance that is consistently below expectations. Unsatisfactory performance could occur if you recognize a particular activity is an important contributor to business success, but you never perform it. Average performance is the kind of performance level that is typical of most farmers. Exceptional performance is performance that is consistently above expectations. 

Once you have completed these self-assessment checklists, you might ask others to also evaluate you. If others are in general agreement with your assessment, this will give you increased confidence in your own assessment. If others assess you differently, it might be an indication that you need to take a closer look at yourself and your business management skills. The point is not to get a “high score” on a series of “tests.” The point is to give you information you can use to be a successful business manager in the 21st century. 

As with any self-assessment exercise, you will only obtain useful input and information from these checklists if you are honest, realistic, and forthright in the assessment process. At the end of this publication, you will find an annotated list of resources for each area discussed. If you choose to improve your skills in a particular area, these resources will provide useful starting points.


For a PDF of the full paper, click here​​.

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