Question Your Operation

January 29, 2013 07:45 PM

Improve your business’ position with a S.W.O.T. analysis

What are the goals for your farming operation? What factors could derail your plan? If you’re a young farmer, your operation is likely still evolving. It’s important to identify what makes your operation successful, as well as what makes it vulnerable.

A S.W.O.T. (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis outlines what you bring to the table when beginning or operating a business. "A young farmer might benefit from conducting a S.W.O.T. analysis by objectively analyzing the business and its management," says Chris Zoller, an Extension educator at The Ohio State University.

Agriculture is a competitive business and requires a variety of skills. "A S.W.O.T. analysis might open your eyes to opportunities you never considered," Zoller says. "It might also bring out weaknesses or threats you never realized."

Winifred McGee, a Pennsylvania State University Extension educator, says a S.W.O.T. analysis should be conducted if you are acquiring, reinventing or starting an operation. "The idea is to remove surprises, as much as possible," she says, noting that you must dedicate time to a S.W.O.T. analysis in order for it to be successful.

Include those important to your operation—your banker, lawyer, etc.—and a trusted friend who will provide an honest evaluation of your business. Also try to include someone in your local community who can mediate the exercise. "Have him or her lead the discussion and keep it on track," McGee says.

The Next Step. Completing a S.W.O.T. analysis is not a one-time project where the results sit in a file cabinet, Zoller explains. "It should be considered the first step in completing a strategic plan for the farm business." Revisit and update it at least once a year, he advises.

McGee agrees, noting that the analysis is only a starting point from which goals should be created. These goals should capitalize on your strengths and opportunities. For each goal, determine four or five objectives that can act as baby steps to help you reach the goal. "Goals are often far off in the future and more in your head than in reality," McGee says. "Create objectives along the way so you can celebrate reaching those benchmarks."

How to Execute a S.W.O.T. Analysis

Chris Zoller, an Extension educator at The Ohio State University, says completing a S.W.O.T. analysis can be fairly simple. Gather those involved in the operation and, as a group, answer the questions below about your farm or ranch. Make sure someone is taking detailed notes to document the process.


  • What strengths does your business have that make you competitive? (Think family, machinery, size, etc.)
  • What do you do better than anyone else?
  • What do your customers see as your strengths?


  • What could you improve?
  • Have you completed a financial analysis of your business to evaluate all of its enterprises?
  • What do your competitors do better than you?


  • Which trends will affect your business?
  • Will you have to increase in size to remain competi tive, or can you remain at your present size?
  • What is happening in your community that can be advantageous?


  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What is your competition doing to meet them?
  • Does your financial position threaten your business?

Worksheets and resources from Zoller and McGee are available to help you start the S.W.O.T. process on your farm. Visit

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