Will Your Operation Succeed to the Next Generation?
Pictured above: Blake & Kim Hitzfield and family of Seven Sons Farms in Roanoke, IN
It’s been said that a farm or ranch is not truly sustainable unless it employs at least two generations. I believe it’s imperative that as producers we recognize that even if we become both ecologically and economically sustainable, but fail to pass our mission and work on to the next generation then we’ve failed the ultimate test of sustainability.
According to the most recent census of agriculture: from 2007 to 2012 there was a decline of over 95,000 farms in America. A quick look at the current trends tell us that most of today’s family farms and ranches will not succeed to the next generation.
I believe there is hope for a bright future.
This hope is not based on wishful thinking but rather a ground swelling of innovative farmers that are indeed beating the odds and are building thriving operations. A few names you may recognize are operations like Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms in Virginia, Gabe & Paul Brown of Nourished By Nature in North Dakota, as well as Will Harris’s White Oak Pastures in Southern Georgia. These are just a few of the many operations that are shining a bright beacon of hope to the greater agricultural community.
If you visit any of these operations there is a very obvious, but all too often overlooked, common thread of success. Each of these operations spring forth with a multigenerational team of people that bring intellectual diversity to each acre of their land.
Most of us in agriculture are at a road block because we’re too narrowly focused on a production mindset and we’ve lost sight of people and relationships. We must make the critical distinction that people create profits - profits don’t create people.
Those of us pursuing regenerative agriculture understand the value that biological diversity brings to our land, but we often forget about the value that human creativity and diverse intellectual capital can bring to our land.
At Seven Sons Farms we’ve stacked multiple enterprises on only 550 acres. By creating synergistic relations between our land, livestock and people, we are able to employee over 10 full time people as well as several part-time positions. We refer to our team as our intellectual human polyculture:
Any successful leader knows that their organization’s most valuable asset is having the right people in the right place.
Zig Ziglar offered this belief: “You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build your business.”
If the above statement is true then it begs the question - how is agriculture as a whole doing at building people? The graph below shows a plummeting decline in the number of human minds in agriculture.
The erosion of human capital:
SOURCES: Agriculture in the Classroom, 2014; BLS, 2014; NASS, 2014a,b; U.S. Census Bureau, 2014a,b; USDA, 2012
Over the course of time we have eroded much of our land’s precious resources in the form of minerals and soil organic matter. But no greater erosion has taken place than the depletion of human minds from each acre of our land. In the early 1970s we reached a critical point - for the first time in the history of American agriculture the number of human minds per acre involved in agriculture fell to a negative ratio.
Interestingly, it was around this same time period that the farmer’s share of the food dollar began to plummet as well.
The erosion of the food dollar:
There are many factors at play but it only stands to reason that if we want to capture a wider diversity of the food dollar, it requires wider diversity of intellectual talents. This is exactly why at Seven Sons Farms we have sought to foster synergistic relationships with people that enable us to capture a greater diversity of the food dollar.
To sum up the past half century of agriculture, one could say that in pursuit of production, we’ve attempted to trade people for profit. In the end we’ve yielded neither profit nor people.
At Seven Sons we believe that the people connected to the land represent the most valuable asset a farm could ever possess. To illustrate this point, imagine for just a moment if you were to remove Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown, or Will Harris from their respective farms. These farms would look nothing like what they do today without the creativity and vision that each of these leaders bring to the land that they are called to steward. The same holds true for your farm as well. The beliefs you operate from, the vision you put forth and the people you inspire to join you - these are the game changers that will empower your operation to beat the odds and succeed to the next generation.
There are unprecedented opportunities ahead of us...
I believe we have unprecedented opportunities ahead of us when you consider many of the recent breakthroughs in regenerative agriculture as well as the rapid shifts we’re seeing in our food culture.
So if you’re looking to exchange new ideas and be challenged to think outside old paradigms then I encourage you to join myself and hundreds of likeminded people at this year’s Grassfed Exchange in Albany New York.
The very mission of the Grassfed Exchange is to catalyze the exchange of practical knowledge, ideas, and strategies that you can take home and begin applying on your operation. Bring a family member, friend or budding young agripreneur who is looking for their way forward in agriculture.