Agriculture, Farm Operation February 01, 2024
The right teammates can make the difference between wins and losses on the farm.
By their nature, most farmers are "do it themselvers."
They are agronomists and mechanics, plant scientists and grain marketers, and a host of other professions.
There is so much to do on an average farm that the magnitude of all those decisions can be overwhelming.
At the Schohr Ranch in Gridley, California, brother and sister Ryan Schohr and Tracy Schohr are an exception.
The pair eagerly hire specialists to help their diversified rice, walnut, and beef cattle operation thrive, rather than feeling the weight of every agronomic, animal health, and business decision on their shoulders.
The notion of hiring people outside the farm operation to assist with some jobs is unusual for many farmers. For generations, farmers have generally adopted a "can-do" attitude and have perfected the art of mastering many tasks.
Era of specialty. But modern agriculture can be highly specialized, requiring detailed knowledge in a host of disciplines. The speed at which the industry is changing can overwhelm family farmers. It is okay, says Lance Woodbury, a family business consultant with Pinion, LLC, to find outside professionals who can help.
"Our tendency is to want to figure out how to do something better that we don't know how to do, even if we're not very good at it," Woodbury says. "The idea is finding who is really good at doing that thing you're not very good at doing."
When farmers find an advisor or specialist that can do those jobs even better than a farmer can, it relieves a lot of pressure and stress to do that job. And that improves the business, he adds.
The Schohrs welcome the advice of a number of off-farm specialists, all of whom are members of their farm "team." Among them: an agronomist to pull soil tests and help interpret findings. They have an accountant to handle the ins and outs of bookkeeping and tax planning specific to agriculture. For their walnut enterprise, the Schohrs hire commercial applicators and harvesters.
They may give up some control over those operations, but they also help reduce their risk.
"And in agriculture, we have to be good risk managers," Ryan says.
It may sound like a contradiction, but giving up control can lead to newfound freedoms, Woodbury explains, particularly when farm operators think of those advisors as assets rather than expenses.
"It's not just whether an investment in that advisor, or farm employee, or agronomist provides a financial return. There's also return in terms of your own time, your time with family and your mental health," he says.
"We do the bulk of the farming ourselves, but we use a lot of outside people," Ryan says. "That gives us the chance to think critically about our operation."
A new set of eyes. Outside advisors bring expertise to the Schohrs' operation that has helped the family challenge the status quo.
"Don't be afraid to move forward and challenge your assumptions. It's okay if your neighbors look at you kind of funny or ask questions. That happens a lot here. But it's how we move ahead and move forward as families and farmers," Ryan says.
And ultimately, hiring outside experts gives the Schohrs peace of mind.
"We've been farming in California since 1861, so it's important for me to allow the next generation to have a chance to run this business successfully, should they choose to do that, or to be an asset to provide for them wherever their life may take them. Whatever it might be, it's important that this farm is here for them," Ryan says. ‡
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