Farmers, channel your inner Rooster

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2017 is the Chinese Year of the Rooster. Farmers could channel that inspiration into a better management focus, says Editor Susan Crowell.

I don’t pay attention to astrological signs or predictions to govern my life — in fact, I think it’s a lot of bunk — but when I read that this is the Year of the Rooster under the Chinese zodiac, I was curious as to what that actually meant.

The Chinese new year begins Jan. 28 and, according to the website astrologyclub.org, Roosters are resilient, loyal, a hard worker, creative and “problem solving is your special talent.” That pretty much describes every farmer I have ever met. I guess that means this is your year.

If you’re wondering if you should tackle a new project that others may scoff at, or if you should buck the system, you’ll be glad to know the Year of the Rooster is also the year to chase windmills, for “Rooster ‘is the Don Quixote of the Chinese Cycle,’” the most eccentric of all the signs.

But then again, the website’s prediction warns, “Do not aim too high. One is liable to get shot down.” So there’s that.

Another virtue “assigned” to the Rooster is management. And that’s where we depart from astrology and get back into the real world. This year has to be the year you focus on your management game.

Yes, hard work is essential, but it will only take you so far.

Too often, we farm “the way we’ve always done it,” or fly by the seat of our pants. Long-range planning? We’re talking next month, right?

Right now, this month, you need to carve out some time — away from distractions — to seriously think about the future of your farm, about what changes need to be made to continue and prosper.

Gather a team of advisers. Your best gets better with the right people. Some team members can be part of the farm operation, others should be trusted outside experts (an accountant or financial adviser; a veterinarian, if you raise livestock). You may even want to consider an outsider who can be a facilitator.

Then, be willing to consider a new direction, and recognize that you, yourself, may have some growing and learning and changing to do. Sometimes the toughest feedback, is the feedback you need the most. Be self-critical, questioning and committed to improvement.

Remember the lecture you gave your children, or the ones you heard from your parents: Life’s not fair, and no one owes you anything. If you want to keep farming, don’t point the fingers at anyone other than yourself.

Back in 2013, Purdue University ag economist and distinguished professor Mike Boehlje wrote this about managing in tough farming times: “An additional skill or competency during turbulent times that is critical is the capability to choose what not to do.”

Give yourself the permission to stop doing something if it no longer makes sense for your farm.

You may love running the combine or milking the cows, but you have to love management more: labor productivity, profit margins, return on assets, and return on equity. Start managing.

“The day of better, deeper, stronger thinking is coming,” Hoard’s Dairyman founder W.D. Hoard said … in 1885. “Wise old Solomon said, ‘As a man thinketh, so is he.’ He did not say as a man laboreth, so is he, and nowhere is this truer than in agriculture.”

And when all else fails, let your conscience guide you, for the Year of the Rooster 2017 motto is: “I know better.”

Yes, you do.

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