When life comes at you though the windshield of a tractor, pickup, or Peterbilt, ideas come to you in strange ways....
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Can I please speak with your manager???
So this afternoon, I’m riding around in the tractor trying to get some corn planted, and I get a tweet (that’s a twitter message) from a guy I talk to on occasion. He wondered how much of my time is spent managing my farm, and how much time is actually farming. I gave it a lot of thought, and then said 50/50, but I don’t think that quite explains it.
We have a unique set up on our farm, and there is a definite reason to why we do things the way we do. I took a personalty profile a while back and it said one of my strengths was context, or the ability to read the past to see the future. So, we’ll go back, to see how we’re moving forward.
When my father and uncle started farming, I mean, really started doing it as more than just a glorified hobby, they both had full time careers, families, and bills to pay. Farming full-time simply wasn’t an option. They wanted to grow the farm business, if not for themselves, than for their children and grand children. They were tired of old equipment. New tractors needed more acres to pencil economically. Over a period of years, the farm grew to the point where they could no longer just do it nights and weekends anymore. The need for employees had arrived.
The path for the orchard business was a little different. Joe and I grew our business much faster (for better or worse), and so our need for help appeared quicker. But it was different. We depend on migrant labor for picking, so when our crew leader of a couple of years, Jose, wanted to start working pretty much year round, we saw the need. He already worked from September to March harvesting or trimming trees, so it wasn’t a huge stretch.
So back to the first question, how much do you work, and how much do you manage? Well, that’s tough. Joe and I handle pesticide application for the apples, so we’re in the field for that. My dad and uncle John and in the fields as much as they can, usually a couple of hours a night. But, we have a lot of work to do. Our guys do things like tillage work, planting, harvesting, and pretty much all our trucking for both fruit and grain. We are out as much as we can, but for example, my dad handles all our grain merchandising. Not much field time required for that, just lots of time on the phone and on the net. I handle a lot of our fertility planning, field mapping, and crop input decisions. Joe does all the orchard scouting, and decides what we are planting, spraying, and when we are picking fruit. My uncle pretty much handles our human resources, and does a lot of mechanical work, and probably spends as much time in the field as any of us. He is the very successful co-owner of a building business, and has an incredible knack for money, finances, and dealing with people. Pretty much all decisions go past the big guy.
So in the end, are we farming, or managing? Well, both really. We have grown to the point where we can’t do the work ourselves, without giving up our other business interests, which, quite honestly, we are all very successful at. But ultimately, it’s still our money, our land, our equipment, and our last name. Regardless of who’s in the field, it’s our family’s farm.
I'm a 4th generation fruit and grain farmer from Sparta, Michigan. I enjoy sharing my story and experiences about farming, social media, advocacy, transition planning, and starting a farm business with groups, and am always looking for new agvocates to talk to!!