Over my 41 years of working with farmers in Western Canada, I have noticed common qualities of successful farmers I have met over the years. From what I have seen, four categories more or less make up a decent person. They include decent mental, physical, financial and spiritual health. But I think we can expand that to maybe eight or more things that I have seen successful farmers do or follow. On a scale of one to 10 where 10 is good, most people likely have some threes, fives, sevens and nines. Odds are every farmer has one or two tens. I will start by saying that I don t think you should let anyone tell you if you are successful or not. Every farmer and his family should have his or their own definition of success.
I will take the positive approach and discuss the characteristics I think successful farmers need to have or already have and use wisely.
At one time scholastic education wasn t all that important in farming. It was more a hands-on business than it is now. Now I think the successful farmer needs to be able to see the world as it is and deal with the good and bad to help him, his farm and his family deal with risks and opportunities.
While being a dentist or doctor or high income specialist might bring in lots of income that can help support a farm, most farmers likely should have a degree or diploma in agriculture. The discipline might vary to more closely match the enterprises you are going to run cattle producers likely should specialize in animal health and nutrition, with a side education in forages and finances. Crop producers likely should major in plant science, soil fertility and grain marketing with a side education in finances. A degree or solid training in management and financial analysis can also make a good background for a farmer.
In the end, the actual education a person has will likely be less important than the ability to look at situations critically, make decisions based on what you know and be flexible enough something pops up you did not expect or if you get new information.
RESPECT FOR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Most young adults have good health, however, we can control some things that can help us stay healthy and manage some things we cannot control that can steal good health from us. Preventing accidents and damage to a body and or mind is important and farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country. Being safe on the farm means keeping shields in place, not sticking arms and legs where they don t belong, decent rest, decent eating and drinking habits and understanding the risks of dealing with fires, chemicals, equipment and livestock and taking steps to reduce risk.
PROTECTING MENTAL HEALTH
While physical health is important day to day, good mental health likely is more important long term. After all, a person can learn to work without a finger or leg or an eye, but poor mental health can end a farming career and lead to a rough life. Worry, anxiety, depression and more are serious concerns and shouldn t be a secret. Building a strong support base and seeking help is key to maintaining mental health.
VALUE YOUR FAMILY
If a family is part of your long term plan, then we need to pay attention to members young and old. Lately I ve heard the saying, Do you want to be the richest man in the graveyard? Along the same line, I would add that the cost of legal fees, breaking up the farm, and so on related to a divorce can buy a lot of flowers and evenings out.
There seems to be little wisdom in working so hard that a once-devoted wife and mother finally says enough is enough. With just one such event, a farm can face an auction sale, a big tax bill, legal fees, big cash costs and an empty house.
Children are a blessing. They will bring grandchildren which are even a bigger blessing. But if a farmer, or anyone for that matter, works so hard that the children don t see him at 4-H speaking events, at Christmas concerts or at the kitchen table with homework sooner or later those kids will figure out what is more important to dad the farm.
Eventually they will resent you and your farm. There s something to be said for playing with the kids on the lawn or on the deck or on the living room floor. There s something to be said for having meals together or having a beer and a cigar or coffee and cake on the deck with the older children. There s something to be said about anticipating what children might need and offering to help out ahead of time. If
they help out from time to time some recognition and reward is good, too.
MAKE TIME FOR DOWN TIME
Some recreation is good and healthy, but no business is built by going to football games, golfing or fishing. I often see and hear how people know every detail about hockey, football, curling and so on but a board has been loose on the fence or corral for months. As you might guess, one of my pet peeves is that a lot of people know the statistics on hockey, football, golf and so on, but don t know how to set up a Tax Free Savings Account or buy stocks and sell covered calls. I understand that most people don t have to or need to be experts in investing but some basic knowledge could be a good skill to have for years to come.
Some farmers can t seem to find any money to spend on recreation. With the cost of raising children, farming, and equipment and so on, sometimes it looks like there is no money for going out for supper, new clothes or a family vacation. But these costs should be in the budget.
Maybe some paint has to be a year older or maybe a new clutch goes into the older truck instead of a newer truck around a good clutch. Maybe the herd gets a $3,000 bull instead of a $4,000 bull so there s money for some of the recreational parts of life.
A good balance between recreation, work, family time and learning new skills is important for the upcoming successful farmer.
VOLUNTEERING AND CHARITABLE DONATIONS
Some farmers are too busy to help with the local fundraiser, but they like their kids to have a place to play hockey. Or people sure like to come out for a good meal at fall suppers but those guys are too busy to help organize, cook or clean up. Your community needs your support, as time as well as money.
I m not sure I would put leading a farm organization as a necessary part of being a successful farmer, owever, the positions are limited compared to local organizations. I do think helping out at local organizations should be part of being a successful member or a community.
Charity, either local and distant, is a personal decision. However I do know that most of us in Canada are better off than most people in other parts of the world. Yes, we could be charitable to the point of giving away all and still not solve the hunger in Ethiopia, or the floods in Pakistan, but a $10 or $20 donation now and then likely is immaterial in the whole farm business budget.
Our family has started a different donation system. Instead of giving each other gifts at Christmas we put the money into buying goats that go to families in poor counties. Last year I doubled it since we are richly blessed.
Andyismostlyretired.Hespendstimegardening, travelingwithhiswifePat,fixing oldcars,visitingwithhisgrandchildrenand managinghisinvestments.Andyalsopublishes anewslettercalledStocksTalkwhere hetellsreaderswhathedoeswithhisinvestments andwhy.Ifyouwanttoreaditfreefor amonthgotoGoogle,typein StocksTalk.net, clickonfreemonth,clickonforms,fillout freemonthsandclicksend.
Some down time is healthy, but businesses aren t built by going to football games and golfing