An advisory team can lead to success

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Dairy cows

Managing all the complexities of a dairy farm is no easy task. Weather, animal nutrition and health, crop variety selection, managing people and monitoring financial performance are just a few of the items that add to the complexity. Fortunately, there are several people available as a team of advisers to help you address the challenges and contribute to your success. 

Farm advisory team

You likely are meeting and working with many of the potential team members already, just on an individual basis. 

Your veterinarian, nutritionist, agronomist, lender, attorney and extension educator are a few of these people. Each brings their own set of knowledge, skills and experience to the table to analyze, diagnose and provide recommendations to address challenges and the direction of your farm. 

Initial planning

Before assembling your advisory team, develop a list of questions, issues or concerns you want assistance and guidance from your team members. Divide the list into immediate, short-term (less than one year), medium-term (one to five years) and long-term (greater than five years) goals or issues you wish to address. 

If you’ve never done it before, completing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) Analysis of your farm business may be beneficial. This analysis can help guide discussion and direction. 

This is also a time to consider who would be a good person to be the facilitator of the team. A good facilitator supports the use of teams, is a good listener, can work with groups and is well organized. 

The role of the facilitator is to guide discussion, keep the team focused on their task and communicate accomplishments and expectations. The facilitator may also assist with periodic check-ins to monitor progress. 

Getting started

Forming the advisory team is not difficult. Again, you are already working in some capacity with each potential team member. The goal here is to bring all the members together at the same time. 

After you have developed your list of goals and completed your SWOT Analysis, now it’s time to invite team members. A phone call or personal visit with each member is suggested. This allows you to discuss your reasons for inviting them, what you hope to accomplish, gauge their level of interest, discuss time commitment and identify potential meeting dates and times. 

A call or face-to-face visit with the person who you identify as the facilitator is important. This person is key to the success of the team and needs to understand their role and expectations. 

First meeting

A written agenda is strongly encouraged. This helps everyone see the task at hand and keeps the team focused and on track. Begin the first meeting with an introduction of members, including their role. 

While most may think they have a good understanding, a brief overview of your farm operation gets everyone on the same page. Describe farm size, cow numbers, animal housing and so on. Following introductions, share with the team your SWOT Analysis and the concerns you’ve identified previously. Allow members to review, digest and react to these. 

The beauty of an advisory team is that each member will approach an issue from a different perspective and provide possible solutions that others might not have otherwise considered. Remember, two heads are better than one. The facilitator will take notes and lead much of the discussion among members. 

Wrapping up

As the established ending time approaches, the facilitator needs to summarize the discussion, reference notes they have taken and identify next steps. The next steps include the date, time and location for the future meetings and tasks to complete (along with the person responsible). These should be sent to all team members. 

Depending upon the complexity and number of topics you wish to address with the team, the frequency of meetings may vary. I believe you should meet with your advisory team at least once a year. 

Summary

Farm advisory teams can bring together those with diverse knowledge and skills all focused on your long-term success. Devote time to completing a SWOT Analysis, developing your goals and areas of concern and invite team members to join you. Your local extension educator is a great resource to help you navigate the process. 

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(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator in Tuscarawas County and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team.)

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