Dairy Excel: Management: A farmer’s three essential skills

Success in managing a farm requires many skills. What are those skills? Trying to record every necessary one would result in a long list and accomplish little.

A simpler approach is to think in terms of just three basic skills that farmers need: technical, human and conceptual. These three cover all the skills that would be on a long list.

Three skills. Technical skills include the ability to grow things, care for animals and operate and repair machinery.

Technical skills also include a farmer’s highly specialized knowledge of soils, seeds, fertilizer, plant and animal diseases, buying inputs and selling what is produced.

Farmers generally like technical skills more and are better at them than the other two skills. It is here that farmers have traditionally put most of their emphasis.

In fact, it is farmers’ interest in technical things that made most of them want to be farmers.

Human. Human skills include the ability to relate well to other people, to motivate them, to communicate and to resolve conflicts.

Farmers with excellent human skills can get things done through other people. They are liked, respected and admired by their employees and family members.

The human side of farming grows in importance as more and more people are involved in farms.

Human skills influence success with landlords, neighbors, veterinarians, suppliers and customers.

Conceptual. Conceptual skills involve seeing the farm as a whole, i.e., seeing the forest rather than just a few favorite trees in the forest.

Conceptual skills emphasize creativity, intuitive talents and seeing opportunities missed my most other farmers.

Farm managers with good conceptual skills are successful problem solvers. They can see and understand how parts of the business relate to each other, e.g., crops and livestock, production and marketing or labor and timeliness.

Implications. All three skills are important to managers. One cannot succeed with two of the three. Just as three-legged stools collapse with just one broken leg, mangers lacking one of the three skills fail as managers.

The relative importance of the three skills changes as a farm manager’s responsibilities change.

Early in a farming career, a manager with day-to-day responsibilities may depend most on technical and human skills. These technical skills become less important as the farm manager succeeds, expands his or her operation, hires more people, delegates more and is involved less in the daily work of the farm and more in its management.

As technical skills become less important, conceptual skills become more important.

Human skills remain uniformly and highly important no matter what level of responsibilities one has in a farm business. The ability to get along and be effective with people never loses its fundamental importance.

All three of these skills can be learned, practiced and improved. In fact, successful young farm managers never have all the skills necessary to succeed with the responsibilities they will have later in their careers.

Managers are never finished learning and improving their skills.

(The author is an ag economist at The Ohio State University specializing in human resource issues and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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