People certainly have lots of opinions, don’t they? Farmers are no exception. Ask one hundred farmers their thoughts on the best crops to grow, how to grow them, or how to profitably get them to market, and you’re sure to receive three hundred very different answers. This is the nature of successful farming. Climate, soil type, and resources can vary dramatically from one operation to the next—and that’s even amongst farmers growing the same crop! What works well for one producer might not translate to another just a mile down the road.
Still, we all want the reassurance that we’re “doing it right”, don’t we? This is human nature. It feels good to receive an endorsement from someone who has already accomplished what we want to do, and has done it successfully. Farming is an inherently risky job, with few guarantees. The more advice and feedback we receive from our peers and elders the better. Right?
Well… maybe. The problem is, it’s extraordinarily difficult to replicate someone else’s systems, much less their economic results. This is one of the great struggles and joys in a life of agriculture, where risk and reward go hand in hand. It’s especially true regarding small-to-mid-scale farming, which is more likely to rely on diverse offerings of vegetables, fruits, or livestock, than for larger scale operations, where thousands of acres of corn or soybeans might make imitating others’ systems more sensible.
This leads us to our second rule as new farmers: Try not to worry about what other people think. Now, if this sounds like “don’t seek out useful information” or, “don’t listen to good advice,” then that’s not what I mean at all. If a successful peer offers a useful suggestion or constructive feedback, then we’d be foolish not to pay attention.
The trouble is, opinions and useful advice can easily be conflated as one and the same. From my experience, they’re not. “Useful advice” leans more on facts and wisdom, whereas “opinions” lean towards emotions and feelings. It’s our difficult job as new farmers to try to sort out the two.
When I first started farming, I had no shortage of local producers offering their opinions as to what I should do. Many well-meaning farmers even suggested I should avoid a career in agriculture all together. Still another laughed out loud when I told him about my plan to raise grass-finished cattle. Twenty years later, my grass-farm is still going strong—and that farmer ended up copying my system about ten years back!
Sure, these opinions were rooted in good intentions. But more often than not, they turned out to be a reflection of the doubts, insecurities, or negativity of the farmers themselves. If I was going to make a go of it, couldn’t allow these voices to dampen my enthusiasm.
The takeaway? Agriculture is filled with hundreds of variables, and no two farms will ever be the same. Because of this, opinions often turn out not to be very useful at all. Learn all you can, grow something you love, and stick to it—despite what others might say. Your passion will guide you to far greater success than worrying about what other people think.
Read Rule #5 here. Next month: Rule #3, Your Farm’s Success Will Depend on Marketing
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