Category: People

Kate Miller: I Will Not Thank a Farmer

MARCH 8, 2019 12:39 PM

By AgWeb Guest Editor
AgWeb

Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Kate Miller, and do not necessarily represent the views of RanchersEdge.com

I was dining alone at my favorite local Mexican restaurant. I was covered in mud because it hasn’t stopped raining in Arkansas since October. I was freezing because the heater quit working in the tractor mysteriously, and I misplaced the bungee cord that closes the farm truck door. As I was scrolling through social media, I could identify with the numerous posts from ranchers I saw who begrudgingly were fighting the elements, be it blizzards and record setting temperatures or this never-ending monsoon and mud in the south. There were multiple posts about “thanking a farmer.” After spending months, tied to a tractor and sick calves and worrying about weather, I could identify with wholly that sentiment.

Having finished my beef fajitas, I noticed a sign the owner had placed at the register. It read: “Please accept our sincere thanks for letting us serve you. We greatly appreciate the fact you have chosen to do business with us. And in return, we pledge our continuing efforts to offer you the best service possible”

It struck a nerve.

The owner of this establishment did not demand that I thank him for his efforts to produce this dinner. He thanked me for choosing to do business with him.

In my mind, I scrolled through the Twitter feed I had witnessed. For how long have we as the ag community demanded that our customers thank us? When was the last time we thanked them? Are we operating from a place of entitlement, where we believe that our professions are somehow sacrosanct in the scheme of the economic ecosystem?

But wait, we toil in the hot summer sun and the cold winter snow—every single day. Yes, but so do the oil derrick hands in Odessa, Texas. But we cannot skip a day because living beings rely on us. Yes, doctors face the same challenge. We work 24/7 and never get a day off—no one just gives me a salary! Yes, so do most entrepreneurs. Yes, but we are underpaid! Said everyone the whole world over.

Even within the industry, other segments of our own business do not take to the Twittersphere and demand praise and thanks. When was the last time you saw any one who worked in a plant demand to be thanked for the 12-hour shift on the debone line?

What is abjectly worse is that by our own admissions we feel that we farmers and ranchers are the most important members of the value chain—we criticize packers for their margins. We pay the vet bill, eventually. We mock consumers for their ignorance and again for the demands they make upon us. And then we turn around and have the audacity to ask everyone to thank us?

When was the last time we showed any appreciation to anyone who chose to do business with us? When was the last time we thanked a feeder or a packer or a distributor or a grocer?

By our own standards–if we are going to thank the farmer, we need to thank the pen rider who doctors sick cattle in heat and blizzards, right? We need to thank the veterinarian who amassed six-figure student loans to answer your call at 2 am because you can’t get one pulled. We need to thank the immigrant who feeds his family by spending 6 days a week surrounded by death, cutting the jugular of 1000 head a day. We need to thank the USDA inspector who earned a master’s degree to work in below freezing temperatures, who worries if another government shutdown will impede her salary.

We need to thank the line supervisor who can speak broken Spanish and Swahili and Burmese to make sure the job gets done right. What about thanking those same production line workers who do the same repetitive cut day after day after day? We need to thank the blast freezer fork lift operator who works alone at sub-zero every day of the year. We need to thank the truck driver who misses his son’s first t-ball game on a run to Amarillo. We need to thank the sales manager who takes the cussing from a chef and loses his bonus because of a rotten injection site lesion in a round because a rancher ignored Beef Quality Assurance (BQA). We need to thank the sales rep whose paycheck depends on the yield of brisket from week to week.  We need to thank every single person who touches our product once it leaves our farms. We need to thank them for the work they do that makes our livelihood possible.

But mostly, we need to thank our customers. We need to thank the people who buy our product, who put their faith in the chain and decide to buy beef to serve their families. We need to thank a chef for serving beef in their restaurants. Instead of asking them to thank us for arguably doing our job, we need to thank them for giving the product we raise value. Without the customer putting beef in their shopping cart or without someone choosing as steak on a restaurant menu, we would cease to exist.

But the reality is as well without the pen rider, the vet, the packer, the line worker, the truck driver, the salesman, the marketer, the grocer—we would cease to exist as well. Cattlemen are a link in the chain, and some of us can argue that we are the endangered species in the ecosystem. (But anyone trying to hire an experienced meat cutter or a driver might argue differently.) The best way to preserve our way of life, the best way to ensure that cattle remain in our pastures is to make sure that beef remains on tables of consumers.

Everything else is noise. Everything else is shouting into the void. We can disagree on Checkoffs. We can disagree on Country of Origin Labeling. We can disagree on BQA. But at the end of the day—without the consumer—none of that matters.

I urge those of you who use social media to interface with the world at large to stop demanding that consumers heap thanks upon you. Instead take a moment to listen to their questions, to answer them without condescension or reproach, and then thank them for the opportunity to tell your story. Then thank them for their patronage, ask them how you can help them have a better beef experience and be a representative of your commodity. Check your entitlement. Start a dialogue. You never know, you might find that by extending grace to the community that supports you—you’ll find the appreciation that you seek.

Bio: Kate Miller is the managing partner for IMB Cattle Company, a third-generation ranch in Southern Arkansas which just celebrated its 51st anniversary. With over ten years in protein marketing including domestic and export sales, Kate continues to try and bridge the ever-widening gap between production agriculturalist, the food production industry and consumers.

Having a Ranch AND a Life

by Dave Pratt

A friend included me in an email chain informing us of a farmer he knew who recently took his life. I don’t pretend to begin to know this man’s pain or anything about his situation. But the story struck me as beyond sad.

Responses in the email chain spoke of the stress of farming, peer pressure to follow traditional practices, financial stress, the personal health and the ecological consequences of reliance on ag chemicals, and more. I don’t know how much this man’s pain had to do with the farm and how much stemmed from other things. The emails made it seem like the farm had a lot to do with it. That’s understandable. Agriculture is stressful. Compounding the physical demands is the financial pressure, the uncertainty of weather and markets, the weight of expectations  to continue a multigenerational legacy, and the peer pressure to conform to the status quo.

After reading the emails I found myself sad and frustrated. Sad for this man’s pain and the unimaginable pain his family and others who knew him must feel. Frustrated because agriculture doesn’t have to be this way.

Please understand, this column is not about this farmer or his suicide. This tragic event is the trigger that got me thinking about an industry-wide issue. Rates of depression and suicide in farming and ranching are disproportionately high relative to other segments of the population. That seems particularly strange given that most farmers and ranchers consider ranching and farming to be a lifestyle first and a business second. If their farms and ranches were a business first and a lifestyle second, I think the emotional well-being of farmers and ranchers would improve. One RFP grad summed it up well when he said, “When we focused on our lifestyle all we did was work our butts off. When we focused on the business, our lives got so much better.”

We grow up learning that the harder we work, the more successful we will be. But as many farmers and ranchers work harder and harder, they fall further and further behind. If hard physical work were the solution to our problems, our problems would be fewer and smaller. Working harder is NOT the answer. In fact, it is part of the problem. We’ve become so busy working in the business that we don’t have the time or energy to work on the business. Of course, if we were to work on our businesses effectively, we wouldn’t have to work so hard in them.

There’s something else that keeps us from working on our businesses. I don’t think many farmers or ranchers know how. Growing up we learned how to grow crops and raise livestock. No one ever showed us how to run a business that grows crops and raises livestock.

The Ranching For Profit School is not a school on farming or ranching. It is a business school that teaches farmers and ranchers how to transform their farms and ranches into successful businesses. When participants  walk in Sunday afternoon, most own a collection of expensive assets and a bunch of physically-demanding, low-paying jobs. By the time they leave, they own a business. Until farmers and ranchers change this fundamental paradigm, they will continue to struggle economically, financially and emotionally.

Focusing on business before lifestyle won’t eliminate the stresses farmers and ranchers face, but it does put us in a much stronger, healthier position to deal with those stresses. I’m convinced that if farmers and ranchers embraced a business-first approach there’d be a lot fewer tragedies like the one my friend shared with me.

If you want to see how transformative the business-first approach can be, watch this video: VIDEO

Need A Succession Plan? Take A Sabbatical

Long periods of time off let you test people for the next role.

By David BurkusAuthor, “Under New Management”

The majority of small business owners don’t have a succession plan, according to several surveys. While the exact percentage moves around with each survey, it’s almost always above 51 percent, and for a variety of reasons. Chief among them always seems to be that leaders are too busy doing other things to think about it.

Surprisingly, there’s a way to solve both problems at once: take a sabbatical.

Recent research, and the experience of companies from McDonald’s to Intel to the Motley Fool, has found that time off can be used to help stress test the organizational chart and experiment with potential leaders in interim roles.

In one study, researchers surveyed 61 leaders at five different nonprofit organizations with sabbatical programs. Each organization had slightly different requirements, but all required at least 3 months off and discouraged executives from visiting the office during the sabbatical period.

The researchers found the majority of leaders surveyed said that the interim leaders (those who filled in for them during their leave) were more effective and responsible when the sabbatees returned. Many even reported those interim leaders continuing some responsibilities and making the overall leader-subordinate relationship more collaborative. Some organizations even reported feeling much more confident in their succession planning since the interim leaders were able to try out the role and assess if they were qualified and, if not, what development opportunities were still needed. One firm was conducting a national search for a future executive director but ended up hiring the deputy director because she had done so well as the interim leader.

While the research on sabbaticals in the workplace is relatively new, sabbaticals themselves are not. McDonald’s has had a sabbatical program in place for their executives for several years. Many technology companies like Intel and Adobe offer them.

At the very least, having people rotate out for an extended period of time allows organizations to stress test their organizational chart. It gives potential leaders a chance to try out for the next role and it gives senior leaders a chance to see what happens when key people are suddenly not a part of the company anymore. That’s why Motley Fool has run a surprise vacation program for several years. Employees names are chosen at random and given two weeks paid vacation, but there’s a catch: it must be taken within the next four weeks. The idea is to make sure no single employee is so critical that the company falls apart.

You may not ever create a formal succession plan, with developmental goals for future leaders and a set timeline. However, by encouraging yourself and your employees to take time away…you’ll be helping prepare everyone for any sudden departures. For these and a lot of other reasons time off in the form of sabbaticals really pays off.

Be Good at 2 Things

When you’re very good at “n”, there are probably thousands of people who are also good at “n”. But if you are good at “n + 1”, that number is far smaller.

And if you are able to add one (+1) to the equation – it increases your ability to withstand anything that comes your way in Life.

Not only do you have the ability to withstand life’s events – when you add that +1 it increases your chances to build upon your current situation.

An example of this would be your hours getting cut at work – by having that +1 you are now able to make up for the loss and find new opportunities to expand and grow. You have now made yourself indispensable.

Indispensable not only to yourself but to any and all persons around you. With your increased skill set your hours may never be cut in the first place.

9 Steps To Getting More Family Harmony

9 Steps To Getting More Family Harmony on the Farm
By Elaine Froese

The coaching theme lately has been older brothers and young brothers (a good bit younger) trying to figure out how to farm together. It is a bit of trick since the older brother typically has a bit more equity because he has been on the farm for a decade or more.

The dilemma of how to give each sibling what they need as a successor sometimes breaks a mother’s heart. She loves all of her children, as does Dad, and she is trying to figure out the way ahead so that the family will be in harmony, and the farm will have a strong team.

What can be done to increase family harmony?

It could be adult children who show up as loving adults, responsible, respectful and ready to create solutions. It is the farming successors who show that family relationships are the core value to be protected, and the farm is a business, not a monster to be fed.

9 Suggestions for All Members to Create Family Harmony on the Farm

1. COME TO THE TABLE

Be willing to discuss ideas and options. What is your big picture vision of farming with your parents and your siblings?

The accountant can give you some creative share structure options, partnership and operating agreements once you are clear about what each sibling needs.  Share your “why” or intent for the things you are asking for.

2. INVOLVE THE DAUGHTER-IN-LAWS

Readers have been asking for an article on daughter-in-laws who farm. I am her. I am a farm partner who supports the farm team. Some daughters-in-law are more active agronomists, livestock keepers, and bookkeepers. Everyone’s role can look different, but all are important.  In my books, the farmer’s spouse can be a daughter-in-law or a son-in-law. The daughter-in-law needs to understand what kind of debt is going to be serviced and be clear that she is willing to help bring in cash or income for family living. If she is a homemaker, that is fine, but the farm will have to cash flow more revenue for debt-servicing. Is this viable?

3. KNOW YOUR FAMILY LIVING COSTS

You need to eat and be clothed. Parents cannot be expected to give you a free ride with free house rent or utilities forever. Once you cover your basic living costs, what do you have left for servicing debt or buying assets? You need disposable cash to grow.

4. REALIZE THAT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE THE OLDEST, MIDDLE OR YOUNGEST CHILD

You cannot change your birth order or become older to “catch up” to your older farming sibling. You can grow up, be mature, and make responsible choices with your time, resources, and energy.  I know a young rancher who worked hard with neighbors to make hay arrangements for his growing cattle herd, and he also bartered his labor to get ahead. He was not using his youth as an excuse to just coast.

5. VISIT YOUR LENDER AND FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE GOOD FOR REGARDING LOANS

Do you know your net worth? How much money could you come up with quickly to leverage some debt for an awesome opportunity to gain assets to farm? You might not be able to afford land, but can you access some rented land and pay for inputs?  Your mom would like you to be independent with your living (laundry, meals, etc. ) and ready to be independent financially.

6. BE PATIENT

It took your parents 40 years to get where they are today. It is 2016, and farming has big dollars attached to the adventure. Be open to learning more about financial transparency. Negotiate what you are willing to commit to and for how long. If your parents are going to roll over or gift assets, they want to know that their wealth will be protected. They also want your marriage to be strong and enduring.  Set some reasonable timelines and dates on paper so that everyone can digest what a workable timeline is for everyone to get closer to their farming goals.

7. REMEMBER TO BOOK TIME FOR FUN

Strong families celebrate. I wish you could see the tears in Mom’s eyes (and Dad’s) at the end of a family meeting when she tells her adult farming children that she is proud of them and loves them dearly. Appreciation and encouraging the heart of your farm business is done with words of affirmation, gifts, and time spent together with gratitude. Don’t kid yourself that all the stuff you collect in your house is important; life is not about things. Write your folks some nice words in a card this year.

8. DECIDE EVERY DAY HOW YOU ARE GOING TO INTENTIONALLY ADD TO YOUR FARM FAMILY’S EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT

When siblings farm together, especially at different stages of the family life cycle, they need to recognize that they will always be in different phases of that cycle. Parents are not responsible for making all of their children economically equal, yet their heartstrings are pulled to want to help each child achieve success. Farm owners may want to help the younger siblings, just as they have helped the older farm and non-farm siblings in their own way. This is not an easy dance. The founders need to take care of their own income streams for the next 30 years and protect their wealth as they make the transition of ownership gradually. It also helps if there is a “personal wealth bubble,” as Merle Good says, to help draw non-farm cash for living needs as we age.

9. YOUR MOM WILL ALWAYS BE YOUR MOM

Someday mom and dad may also be your business partner. This is where role confusion really mucks people up. They cannot switch “hats” as they relate to each other in the different roles they play. Practice saying, “As your child, I feel valued and respected as a member of this family, and as your future business partner I am looking forward to creating solutions to make a great future for my own family .”

 

Stockmanship Notes: A Bud Box in Action

Author: Dan Macon – Published on: February 1, 2019

Bud Williams, in many respects, was the leading expert on livestock handling and stockmanship on the planet. I never had the opportunity to meet Bud personally, but I have learned from several people who learned directly from him – notably Roger Ingram (my predecessor as livestock advisor) and from Steve Cote, who teaches and writes about Bud’s techniques today.

Roger had the opportunity to work directly with Bud at a cattle feedlot in Canada in 1993, an experience he writes about in Belief and the Will To Do It. Low-stress stockmanship, Roger writes, requires a change in attitude:

Old Attitude: “I’m going to MAKE that animal do what I want.”

New Attitude: “I’m going to LET that animal do what I want.”

Old Attitude: “That miserable [fill in your own profanity] cow [or sheep, goat, etc.] broke back [missed the gate, charged me, got sick, etc.].

New Attitude: “What did I do to cause the animal to react that way?”

Steve Cote, in his first book, Stockmanship: A Powerful Tool for Grazing Lands Management, writes:

“The best handlers have the best attitudes. They watch, adjust, and constantly move to where the stock show them the need to be to get the job done right, all the time.”

As I’ve worked my own sheep, and helped other producers handle cattle, sheep and goats, I’ve realized that low stress stockmanship is a continual learning process. The key, for me, is that I believe in it – I’ve seen the results when it works well! When something doesn’t work, though, I don’t abandon my belief in the approach; rather, I think about what I could have done differently. Thoughtful stockmanship requires us to assume that if the animals aren’t doing what we expect or desire that they are trying to communicate with us (rather than misbehaving).

This idea that stockmanship is a lifelong learning process, at least for me, is what separates Bud Williams from Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin’s facility designs are excellent, but in many ways they are designed to minimize stress on livestock when the handlers using the system are not students of stockmanship. Bud Williams’ designs, on the other hand, work amazingly well because they are based on the principle that the handlers understand livestock behavior. The “Bud Box,” which we use in our sheep corrals, is a great example of this principle.

Bud taught that animals will follow certain instinctive behaviors if they are in a normal mental state. Animals want to move in the direction they are headed; they also instinctively prefer to exit a pen where they entered it. They want to follow other animals (in other words, movement creates more movement when working with a herd or flock). They want to see what is pressuring them. If we want them to speed up, we can walk in the opposite direction of their movement; walking in the same direction as the animals will slow them down.

The Bud Box system takes advantage of these behaviors. Unlike the solid-sided, curved alleys and sorting “tubs” typical of many of the Dr. Grandin-designed facilities I’ve seen, the Bud Box is simple, open-sided, and straight. The Bud Box itself is a smallish pen at the head of the alley (for our sheep corrals, this pen is 8 feet by 10 feet – big enough for 8-10 ewes). The direction of movement into the alley is back towards the location where the animals entered the corrals (so they naturally want to return there). The opening at the head of the alley allows the animals to move away from the pressure of the handler working in the Bud Box – this handler simply walks from the opening diagonally through the Bud Box, which induces the animals to move away (and into the alley) in a calm manner. From there, a handler can walk with purpose in the opposite direction of the animal flow through the alley – this will induce the animals to move up the alley (towards a squeeze chute, or in our case, towards our sort gate). All of this can be done with yelling, whistling, or using hot shots (or even rattle-paddles) to force the animals to go where we want them to go.

In our sheep operation, I’ve found that I can sort a group of sheep quickly working with just a dog. The dog helps load the Bud Box. The sheep are trained to the system – they will usually put themselves in the alley. While I stand at the sort gate at the end of the alley, the dog walks in the opposite direction of the sheep in the alley, which causes them to move forward (and through my sort gate).

Last month, we held a workshop on trimming feet and giving vaccinations to sheep. Using a drone, Roger was able to provide a bird’s eye view of the Bud Box. This YouTube video shows us loading the alley, scanning ear tags, and sorting a whether into a holding pen.

Working animals rarely goes perfectly! Problems, at least when I’m in the proper frame of mind, are learning opportunities. Stockmanship requires cross-species communication (indeed, in the video above, there are sheep, dogs, and humans trying to communicate with one another). In my experience, time for reflection is also important – thinking about what worked (and what didn’t) can make us better stock handlers!

Panic attacks, isolation, loneliness and fear: January can be the cruelest month for farmers

The high cost of stress, down on the farm

January is a dark month, mentally, for farmers, writes Toban Dyck.Postmedia

I drove myself to the hospital exhibiting heart-attack symptoms and left with none. This has happened twice. And both times I left the urgent care with a clean bill of health.

The attending physician would sensitively sidestep toward what to him was the obvious conclusion: anxiety.

“Do you have a history of anxiety?” he would ask. “Have you ever experienced panic attacks?”

It never occurred to me that physical symptoms as real and specific as chest pain could stem from anxiety, a state of being that seems too nebulous and ethereal to have any physiological connection. Nor did I consider myself anxious.

Many farmers spend their days alone. They work alone. They troubleshoot alone. And they shoulder the farm’s problems alone
Adapting to a schedule that has become increasingly busy and demanding has been a challenge. It requires that I pay special attention to my mental health, ensuring that I routinely balance the things that deplete me with activities that recharge.

Canadian farmers are by and large familiar with weathering storms. It’s an assumed clause in the job description. We do it all the time. In southern Manitoba, right now, it’s cold and windy and there’s enough snow built-up that I’m not sure you’d make it down my driveway with a two-wheel-drive vehicle. This is not uncommon for January.

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The dark side of farming: Surface stoicism can mask struggles with mental illness
In whiteout blizzard conditions my wife and I feel alone on our farm. But that’s more of an observation than a fear. We have the tools and machinery to survive. And, if those all fail, we have neighbours who would ensure our safety.

Things change, however, when the things that need dealing with are in our heads. We don’t feel as confident calling a neighbour for help. The steps needed in order to survive the storm are not as clear.

Many farmers spend their days alone. They work alone. They troubleshoot alone. And they shoulder the farm’s problems alone. And, while any farmer would be able to tell you exactly where to purchase a new cultivator shovel, they may not know where to go for help dealing with the nagging and intrusive thought that their farm isn’t going to make it another year. Or, worse yet, that they aren’t going to make it another year.

Some farms are miles or hours from the nearest community. And some farms have poor or nonexistent cellphone coverage. Isolation and loneliness are physical realities that become exponentially more dangerous when they become mental realities, as well.

Strength. Endurance. Survival. Perseverance. These are the words through which many farmers judge themselves. To be known in connection to any of them is to have built a solid legacy. To have found the last growing season stressful, mentally, is tantamount to saying you’re a lesser farmer.

My wife and I own slightly less than 100 acres of land. It’s not much, by most Canadian farming metrics. But the payments are high. And the stress associated with our new and growing operation is tied to managing the cash-flow demands we have now with an eye for what those demands are going to look like as we purchase more acres.

The federal government is currently taking a deep look into the issue of mental health among farmers. They have opened themselves to receive personal anecdotes from producers across Canada. According to iPolitics, many farmers report being under extreme pressure and some have contemplated suicide due to stress and isolation.

The full report is expected to be released this year.

In November, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay acknowledged the mental-health concerns that are specifically plaguing the agriculture industry and announced a campaign that will see ag-lender Farm Credit Canada team up with 4-H Canada to provide a support network for youth.

On Jan. 7, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Ernie Hardeman, raised his voice on the matter, announcing a public awareness campaign aimed at shedding light on the mental-health challenges that face farmers.

“Farming can be a tough business, one that takes a toll on farmers and their families,” he said, in a press release. “We want to address the stigma that still surround mental health and help people find the resources that can make a difference.”

The stigmas are not going away any time soon. Farmers are culturally known to be hearty and callous toward things as seemingly petty as insecurity and negative thoughts.

The next time you’re driving outside of the city and you see just one yard amid thousands of acres of unoccupied land, know that as lonely as that farm looks is as lonely as some farmers feel.

It’s January. Traditionally, this month is a dark one, mentally. Take extra care out there. I’m learning to deal with my anxiety. It’s not easy.