The bears in the market warn us to shelve our party hats and recall the lessons of leaner times. “The last demand-driven boom like this one devolved into $1.50 corn by 1977,” says veteran Iowa land appraiser Fred Greder. “But today’s surviving growers are much more sophisticated. So store your acorns; we’re seven years into the same kind of demand-driven boom and long overdue for leaner times.” The challenge, though, will be adjusting rents on ground that’s tripled in value since October 2006, says the Mason City, Iowa, owner of Benchmark Agribusiness.

Half an hour away is Reid Weiland, the poster child for the more sophisticated grower Greder describes. He’s the production and business development manager of a “good-sized,” growing cash grain Weiland Farms, Garner, Iowa, that he operates with his parents Don and Judi.

Weiland has a deepened appreciation of intensive management and defined farm roles, having analyzed farms in Brazil. “We as farmers need to think beyond the tractor and run a fine-tooth-comb through our business; managing it to a high degree,” he says.

“Transitioning from operations to management has been a challenge for our family. American farmers tend to lead with a shovel, but it takes management to deliver deliberate, sustainable growth and profit,” Weiland says candidly of the transition to a larger, potentially riskier business. To that end, he’s developing a manager's dashboard to gauge their progress toward fulfilling the farm’s mission statement: To grow value with precision and integrity while nurturing relationships, the land and our community. Weiland Farms grew 20% in acres this year, and its goal is to continue at a 10% annual rate without sacrificing their highly managed approach.

His firsthand observation of large sophisticated Brazilian operations, such as SLC Agrícola that just announced another development of 50,000 acres in Bahia, was a sobering influence on the kind of global competition facing American farmers. “Competition on this scale can only drive us to manage to a greater degree,” Weiland says.