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How Do You Define Success?



The knee-jerk answer to this could be “corn yields” or “soybean yields.” With high land prices and the long-term importance of soil organic matter, though, high yields alone no longer determine the long-term succession of your kids at the farm.

Albert Schweitzer defined success as loving what you do.

Barbara Bush measured success by how you treat others, from family to strangers.

I think third-generation Iowa farmers Jim and Cathy Sladek are successful ( They (JCS Family Farms) formalized a strategic management approach that identifies company strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). They restructured their farm business before increasing their acres in 2008 to “navigate today’s ongoing farm consolidation,” Jim says. “My guesstimate is that farm size will double in five years.” Their goal is to ensure a viable operation for future generations. “Agriculture is running out of excuses for not using standard professional business practices,” Jim says. “As hockey player Wayne Gretzky says, ‘Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is now. We have to be more professional about managing risk,” Jim says.

Profit is the dirty word that makes other goals possible.

I’m a huge fan of Wells Fargo Senior Economist Mike Swanson, who frames success this way: “How will your grown children view the way you used today’s once-in-a-lifetime agriculture bonanza? Only you can define the outcome of your business. Generations ago, farmers said, ‘I can’t control the markets and the weather.’ Rolling the dice is not good enough today.

“The first hurdle of success is a mental one: You cannot control things, but you can manage them. Success has wiped out the lessons and discipline of 20 years’ experience and education. You can anticipate patterns without having to accurately predict the correct time, price and place an event will occur. That’s your job: to anticipate patterns.”

As the mother of a musician, a marketer and an engineer, I know that success takes many forms. How do you define success?

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“My guesstimate is that farm size will double in five years.” Their goal is to ensure a viable operation for future generations. “Agriculture is running out of excuses for not using standard professional business practices,” Jim says. “As hockey player Wayne Gretzky says, ‘Skate to where the puck will be, not where it is now. We have to be more professional about managing risk,” Jim says.
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