The Greek philosopher Socrates advised: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.” Industry leaders share this advice on strategizing for the future of ag as well.

“Start staking out and using technology today,” says ag economist Brent Gloy, who farms with his family in southwest Nebraska while also serving as a visiting professor at Purdue University. Of this advice, Gloy says, “The future of farming is rapidly changing. Technology, data and automation on farms will be even more important five years from now than it is today. This means producers need to adapt.”

He adds, “You don’t need to do it all at once, but you do need to start using some [technology]. We need to be making sense of some of the technology and information available and use it to become better. There are cool technologies coming, and it will change how we do ag in this country. That I know for sure.”

“Maintain ample cash and operating credit,” also advises Gloy in anticipation of economic changes. He adds, “Get fixed costs under control; focus on asset utilization and inventory management.” He also suggests considering diversification and building around value-creating services.

Additionally, Gloy says the ag community needs to pay attention to the fact that the bulk of landowners and farm operators are in the 65-and- older age bracket – indicating a shift in land ownership is to come. Gloy says, “We have a lot of farmers in the older age demographic. In the future, their land is still going to be farmed, but who is farming it and how will be different.”


He says, “There will be a lot of [farm] ownership and experience that is going to walk out the door over the next decade. My point is: The number of farms will decline, and farm size will get bigger. That is going to present challenges, but there is also opportunity; it will be different. This land ownership change is going to happen. We need to prepare for it.”

Replace “fed feed” with grazed feed. That’s advice ranch industry icon Burke Teichert emphasizes to producers. He says, “Reducing the ratio of fed feed to grazed feed can make a huge economic difference,” and he adds, “With some ingenuity, you can figure out how to reduce feed costs.” One strategy he has employed is to skip days of winter feeding so cows are inclined to graze some on the open range; otherwise, he says, “With daily feeding, cows tend to wait for the feed truck.”

Teichert also emphasizes giving careful consideration to the kind of cattle selected for the ranch. His advice: Pick the toughest time of year you’ve got on your ranch, then select cows for that. He adds, “Do you have to feed them to keep them in condition? If so, do you want their heifer calves?” Bottom line, he says, “I want a cow to reproduce and particularly rebreed. No trait is more important than rebreeding.”

Along with the genetic selection consideration, Teichert advocates taking an approach both integrative and holistic – for the entire ranch. Teichert says, “There’s never just a single output. A systems approach to decision-making enables a producer to see and consider unintended consequences.”

“We should all strive to be hiring our replacement,” says Kirk Jacobson, human resource director for Beef Northwest, a diversified agribusiness operation in Washington and Oregon. The company has 190 employees employed at four feedlots that have 90,000-head capacity, three ranches and a trucking company.

Jacobson calls employees one of the “key variables” that impacts profitability. He advocates that hiring, training and fostering dedicated employees results in improved net profit, better family time, less stress and worry, better job satisfaction and a great reputation for the business.

Jacobson advises that one of the best investments is having a training plan for employees. “It doesn’t need to be complex; it can be bullet points with a timeline. Know what you want them to know after two weeks, two months, two years on the job. With the development of this training plan, you are helping communicate your vision for them and their role.”

He also suggests, “Have the mentality that you plan on every new hire retiring with you – invest in them.” Jacobson is also an advocate for having regular weekly or bimonthly meetings with employees, setting goals with them and then providing feedback about areas that need improvement as well as accomplishments.  end mark

Kindra Gordon is a freelance writer from South Dakota.

PHOTO: Illustration by staff.