Any business faces its share of power struggles, differences of opinion and big egos. When it’s a family-farm business, those challenges are exacerbated not only by the economic complications of farming today, but also by the addition of sibling rivalries, intergenerational head-butting, spousal disagreements and all sorts of emotional baggage that comes with normal family relationships.
Family farms can survive, but it takes work, according to Andy Junkin, a farm-life coach who works through his company, Agriculture Strategy, to establish functional decision-making cultures that allow both the business and the family to thrive.
Junkin will be a featured speaker at three sessions during the 2018 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in December. By the end of each session, he said growers should have concrete steps for “how to set tough goals, how to make decisions together, and how to eliminate the B.S. that’s holding you back.”
Coming from a seventh-generation farm family, Junkin said he experienced a good deal of strife himself, including his parents’ divorce, which was ultimately triggered by an argument over a manure spreader, and his own difficulties introducing his father to new farm practices.
One incident stands out: After spending a few years at agricultural college, he came home with dozens of business plans and lots of ideas, one of which he tried on the family farm.
“As it turned out, my uncle came for a visit and told my father that I was going to make more money off of an acre than he was going to make from his entire farm,” Junkin said. Rather than bestowing congratulations for a job well done, his father responded by plowing down that acre.
That, Junkin recalled, is when he realized that a successful family farm business requires much more than a good business plan.
Describing himself as a self-taught expert on farm-decision science, Junkin began helping local farm families more than a decade ago and eventually made that service his full-time career.
“Usually when I get called out to save a family farm, there’s already been two or three so-called experts on the farm. The difference is that they tell farmers what to do, and I realized a long time ago that, first of all, farmers don’t like being told what to do, and if you do tell them, they probably won’t listen anyway; and second, most farmers are way smarter than I am,” he said.
His role is to put in place a process to help the family figure out for themselves what they want to do next and how to do it, he said.
“The key thing is to be able to get rid of the egos and pride and make better decisions on a professional level,” he said. Once the farm family improves those skills, a better economic outlook will follow. “If you can do that, you can reduce your cost of production tremendously,” he said. •
Junkin will present “Tough Times Never Last — Tough Farm Families Do!” at three sessions on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Great Lakes EXPO:
-10:30 a.m. during the Tart Cherry track
-2:20 p.m. during the Blueberry 2 track
-3:30 p.m. during the Farm Marketing 4 track
More information about his sessions and the Great Lakes EXPO overall is available at www.glexpo.com
-by Leslie Mertz