farmer roundtable

Zero in on setting goals

David Kohl talks about why setting goals for your farming operation is so important.

Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating an educational seminar alongside Dr. Mike Boehlje of Purdue University, for the Cornerstone Dairy Academy of Professional Dairy Producers Foundation, and the Farm Futures Summit groups.  Even jet-lagged, Dr. Boehlje and I fed off the other’s energy creating an entertaining, and hopefully, educational experience. 

During the seminar, one producer commented that many businesses expanded faster in the commodity supercycle than their business acumen. He further remarked that complacency led to less focus on the basics, or to borrow a football analogy, made the blocking and tackling sloppy.  Actually, the commodity supercycle did enable the easing of several fundamentals; one of which is setting goals. 

To set the stage for the seminar’s discussion on fundamentals, I shared some of the analysis of this year’s TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers) participants. This year’s TEPAP group was asked to describe the status of their goals.  Of these executive producers, 38 percent had written goals in place that were updated and amended.  Thirty-six percent were currently working on their goals; and 27 percent indicated they had not drafted their goals, but intended to. 

One of the dairy producers present asked why I placed so much emphasis on setting goals, which is an excellent question. First, goal-setting can be a key component in developing strategy and objectives. In fact, goals provide the focus and direction for the business for up to 10 years. The young producer’s question is particularly pertinent because this is one business basic that is too often overlooked or dismissed.  I have heard that some find the exercise of setting goals academic; while others find the process intimidating, or even potentially contentious among partners, spouses or family. Still, some find this simple basic exceedingly difficult because it forces one to think critically about the business, family, and personal life.  Writing out your goals naturally invites critical evaluation of each aspect, which yes, can be daunting.  Nevertheless, goals provide purpose as well as an important unit of measure of performance. As an aside, we all easily become distracted by a phone call or text, so turn off the phone and allow yourself the benefit of quiet space in which to think. While technology is vital to our lives and progress, it has a way of pulling us towards the urgent instead of the important.   

Today’s economic environment is challenging, and struggling producers have several factors to consider. Throughout my travels, I hear some version of the question “Where do I start?” Well, if you seek focus, start with some simple, basic short term goals and see if you can master them. From there, add in longer term goals.  You may be surprised to discover how specific goals can transform your daily decisions and priorities.  You may also find that setting goals creates a positive momentum.   

It is true that the simple business basic of goal-setting is often overlooked. However, this also means that setting goals can provide you with a competitive advantage. In today’s economic environment, if for no other reason, a potential gain is worth exploring.   

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