Winter is a great time to get rid of those piles in your farm office. My business consulting friend, Stuart Morley of Ontario, wrote me a story from his observations in Africa, that may be an encouragement to you. My new office is making me more money with better systems in place. Beauty does create energy, so get to work after you read Stuart’s observations.
As a city kid, growing up in Africa I spent my holidays with friends who lived on farms. The farmers seemed to be the ones with cars, planes and tractors unlike us poor city folk. I figured all farmers were rich so I decided I would become a farmer.
However, I was a little taken aback during the third year of my agricultural degree to find most farmers lived pretty poor. Some died rich but few lived and died rich. It was the early days of computers, and to save costs for farmers and give us a college project, we persuaded a group of about 30 farmers to give us their financial records and in return we would tell them how they compared to the average.
Once we overcame confidentiality concerns, we found the farmers liked to see how they were doing but now wanted to visit the farms of those who were doing better than average. We worked with the local farmer’s co-op to arrange several of these visits.
I was curious and decided to go on some of the farm visits, and noticed some farmers had grand offices and others were almost a hole in the wall.
It was in my fourth and final year that I came across a thesis that a doctoral student was working on, trying to find the correlation between the farmer’s profit and a number of variables. It included things like type of farming, size of farm, whether the farmer had irrigation etc. It also included the size and comfort of the farmer’s office. The student found that the only thing that was closely correlated to profit was the size and comfort of the farmer’s office. The size of office was easy to measure in terms of square feet, but for comfort he included a score according to whether the office had desks, chairs, phone, typewriter, filing cabinets, maps on the wall, couches etc. I was fascinated. How could a nice office generate a nice profit? Or did it mean you had to first make a nice profit and then build the nice office?
As I went on farm visits in my fourth year I compared the farm office to the financial statements. The relationship was confirmed, but how to test it out?
When my girlfriend invited me to her family farm for the holidays I decided to watch her father, Martin, at work. He would start work at 5 a.m. and drive the truck to various parts of the farm to allocate duties to the workers. He would also stop by the shed to check which tractors the mechanic was working on, and check the sheep and cattle pens and then head home for breakfast, after which he would drive to the village for supplies, being home for lunch around noon. After a quick nap, Martin would go back to check on the workers around 2 p.m. At about 3 p.m. it was tea time back at the farmhouse and at about 3:30 he headed to the office to do the paperwork.
The office was in a part of the house that caught the afternoon sun. The room was only slightly larger than a closet and sitting down at the desk made it hard to open or close the door. Piled high on the desk were invoices, newspapers, magazines, chemical recommendations for the crops and notes of things to do.
Sitting at the desk facing the window was not easy, with the hot African sun shining in his eyes. On both sides of the desk were shelves with fishing tackle, household repair items, screws and plugs.
We used to time how long Martin would sit in the office. It ranged from a few minutes to never more than half an hour. He would sit down and search for documents, and the longer he sat, the more uncomfortable he became, as the hot sun was beating down on him. Finally, in frustration, he would storm out of the office and go to check on the workers one more time.
My girlfriend and I discussed moving the office, but her mother, Mary, warned that Martin had a terrible temper and would not accept change easily.
The following Saturday, Martin went to the city for a farmer’s co-op meeting and we knew that he would be gone most of the day. I decided, despite the warnings, that we should move the office. We chose a spare bedroom that had not been used for years and cleared out all the junk. Then we had to take the desk apart to get it out of the old office. We hung maps and pictures in the new office, and even had enough space for a desk and chair for Mary, as she did some of the bookwork.
As we were moving the desk into the new office, Martin arrived home. When he saw the desk in pieces on the floor in the hall he started to yell… What the… and then suddenly stopped… and stared.
I explained that we were moving his office and would he help me with the last few pieces. Martin did not say a thing and did what I asked. The next day he moved the phone wires and the party line phone system into the office. My girlfriend and I went back to finish university and go on to other careers and forgot about becoming farmers.
Each year we visited the farm during our holidays. One of the first changes we noticed was the office had become the main room in the house and the furnishings had been improved. Martin still went out early in the mornings to allocate work, but after breakfast he went into the office instead of to the village. He spent time there doing calculations and estimates, checking invoices, ordering supplies by phone rather than driving into the village. After lunch and a quick nap he was back in his office and it was only after tea in the afternoon when he sometimes went out to check the work.
The second year when we visited we found Martin had promoted two of his best workers as supervisors to do the work he could no longer do because he was spending so much time in the office. Often around 5 p.m. when the work was done, the supervisors met in the office to discuss with Martin the work for the following day.
Martin told us that he was making more money sitting in his office than he did wandering around the farm supervising workers.
The third year when we visited, Martin was only checking up around the farm every few days and sometimes only once a week. Martin and Mary were taking longer holidays, and she noticed that he had some of his best ideas when he got back from a few weeks away.
The fourth year was amazing. Martin had changed his whole cropping program but farmers in the area thought he was crazy.
In year five when we visited, Martin was trying to help his neighbours see the merit of a comfortable office, hiring supervisors and taking long holidays.
In year six, everything changed. My girlfriend became my wife and we had a big farm wedding. The next year Martin bought two farms from famers who had gone broke. He was determined to make them profitable. He also wanted to bring his eldest son, David, into the business to help him.
It was another 10 years later when Martin had a stroke. David took over control of the farms. The youngest son, Paul, was now also working on the farms. When we went to visit, David and Paul told us they did not want the office to be in Dad’s house anymore. There were several houses on the family farms and they wanted our help to plan a new office. They said they wanted a bigger, more beautiful office because they wanted to make enough money to support three families on the farm as well as all the workers.
ElaineFroesehelpsfarmfamiliescommunicate to“dothetoughthingsright.”Orderher newbookat www.elainefroese.com andbook herforyournextfarmerappreciationevent. Call1-866-848-8311forphonecoaching.Elaine isamemberoftheCanadianAssociationof FarmAdvisorsandtheCanadianAssociation ofProfessionalSpeakers.