Highlights From 2017 Tomorrow's Top Producer

September 15, 2017 05:04 PM

Nearly 150 young farmers representing dozens of states gathered in late July in Nashville to learn from farm business experts, share their leadership experiences with peers and network during the 2017 Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference.

This year’s theme, “Prepare 2 Thrive,” reflects the resilience of farm operators who are equipped with the right knowledge and professional business network.



The event included recognition of Cody Goodknight, a Chattanooga,Okla., cattle producer and row-crop farmer who became the winner of the 2017 Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award.

The conference also featured a first-ever preconference workshop on commodity marketing and risk management led by Jamie Wasemiller and Jeff Beal of the Gulke Group. The session also included a presentation about key farm financial metrics from Nick Stokes of Rabobank.

Speakers addressed a number of topics critical for farm executives 40 and under, including how to transition from a doer to a leader and tactics for strategic planning.

The conference included a live taping of the “U.S. Farm Report” Marketing Roundtable with commodity experts. —Staff report

How to Navigate Farm Change in a Mad World

Bring on the change. In agriculture’s climate of constant flux, convention can be costly. Spotting and dealing with change before it charges through the gate is a high-wire act and part of farming survival.

Dino Giacomazzi says tomorrow’s top operators must recognize the lethal effect of disruptors that can break a farming business. The fourth-generation California dairy producer details the actions producers can take to adapt to a business world that’s constantly in flux.

“As a producer, I know I have to listen to what is being said on the fringes. Why? Those fringes often become mandates in short time,” Giacomazzi says. “What can we do now to change, in case we get forced to change?”

From the get-go, Giacomazzi began implementing new technologies. He dropped conventional tillage and switched to strip till, resulting in an 82% reduction in tractor passes. “The hippies loved it, the EPA loved it
and the banks loved it,” he says.

Giacomazzi maintains vigil searching for approaching disruptors, whether consumers, GMO controversies, regulations, water technology, synthetic food, bitcoin or 3-D printing. “I don’t want to get knocked out by a
black swan I never saw coming,” he says. —Chris Bennett

From Football to Farming

Former St. Louis Rams center Jason Brown left the NFL to become a full-time farmer in North Carolina. He’s learned the reins of production ag, received help from hundreds of volunteers, and donated hundreds of thousands of pounds of crops.

“It is great to be among this awesome fraternity of farmers,” Brown told attendees. He shared his family’s journey and explained the value of getting up each day, finishing what you’ve started and never quitting.

He and his wife, Tay, run the 1,000- acre First Fruits Farm near Louisburg. —Nate Birt

Diversification Tips From Farm Entrepreneurs

Any producer considering a business move beyond the rows should note personal strengths and weaknesses from the start, says Anna Brakefield, founder and co-owner of Red Land Cotton, who works alongside her father, Mark. A red-dirt girl from Moulton, Ala., Brakefield is producing heirloom cotton linens from family farm to home and protecting the purity in every link of the production chain.

“Recognize the areas where you lack proficiency,” Brakefield says. “I bring marketing and advertising expertise, and my father brings farming knowledge. Any farmer wanting to expand needs to take a look beforehand and fill in those blanks.”

The initial push is the hardest part of branching beyond traditional a farming business, adds Chris Noble, part-owner of Noblehurst Farms, a dairy operation in western New York.

“Farmers already know their core business and learned so much from their fathers and grandfathers,” Noble explains. “But once over the learning hump, diversified opportunities are similar to farming businesses, and it can be a natural fit. For anyone considering a farm-related business, I’d advise them to find something they are
passionate about and match opportunity with talent.”

Shape your business around customer connections, advises Jamie Walter, a fifth-generation producer from Dekalb, Ill., growing corn, rye, soybeans, wheat—and whiskey. He is the co-founder and CEO of Whiskey Acres Distilling Co.

“As producers, we need to go direct to consumers and make emotional connections,” Walter says. “In the past, that’s something our agriculture industry hasn’t done particularly well.”

Recognize strengths and stick to those roots. —Chris Bennett

How Farmers Can Turn Themselves Into Customer Service Wizards

Although many producers think their customers are consumers, most farmers don’t get a check from people shopping at the grocery store. Instead, farmers’ customers include landlords and other operators to whom they
provide custom services, says Mike Boehlje of Purdue University.

The best operators think strategically, and the No. 1 strategy they employ is to think critically about how to create value for their customers.

“Most of the legacy of farming—your grandfathers, your fathers—have a produce-and-peddle mentality,” Boehlje told attendees of the conference, which he kicked off with a presentation urging young operators to think critically about their business processes. In the past, farms could simply be good at production and adopt an “if we build it, they will come” mentality.

That approach is no longer enough, he cautions. “Think like a business person, not a farmer,” Boehlje says.

One way to turn the corner is to approach your processor and other customers with the question, “What can I do to create value for you?”

Boehlje shares how one producer agreed to provide on-demand delivery of 10,000 bu. of grain within 24 hours of a request from his processor. In turn, the processor committed to giving the farmer 10¢ per bushel for all grain deliveries, even above the 10,000-bu. fi gure. The processor viewed the premium as a way to contract inventory management to the farm.

“This farmer talked to his customer,” Boehlje says. —Nate Birt

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Premier sponsors: AgriGold, AgYield, Anuvia, Bayer, Case IH, Channel, CropZilla,
Dow AgroSciences, Growmark, K•Coe Isom, Pioneer, PotashCorp, Top Third Ag
Marketing, Verdesian. Co-sponsors: ADM, ESN Smart Nitrogen, AgroLiquid, Farm
Credit Mid-America, Harvest Returns, Silveus Insurance Group, SoybeanPremiums.org.

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