The Rise of the Farmer CEO

Last week, Adam (our Business Development lead) and I attended the Forbes Agtech Summit in Salinas, CA. In a beautiful outdoor downtown setting, a collection of entrepreneurs, investors, media and farmers discussed their industry views and the role they want to play in advancing the future of agriculture. An industry event sponsored and organized by a mainstream business publication indicates that agriculture is finally receiving the mainstream attention it deserves. That’s a nice reassurance for me and for others who work in the industry. But beyond that, it was encouraging to see that agriculture was being discussed as the center of big business challenges and opportunities, not as a separate, slow and removed industry like it was perceived to be just a couple of years ago.

At Granular, in fact, we strongly believe that successful farmers need to supplement their deep agronomic knowledge and passion for the land with managerial strategies and behaviors that are more characteristic of corporate CEO’s. We believe that they need to think and act as such because they deal with the same challenges: increased volatility, proliferation of technology, more competition, etc. Yes, they are dedicated farmers first and foremost, but they are also leaders of complex entities with a broad network of stakeholders they are accountable to.
So what are the observable characteristics of a Farmer CEO, the kind of farmer who we believe will lead agriculture into a new age? We look at our customers, and this is what we see:
1. They have a plan. Farmer CEO’s think of their farm as a business that needs to grow, and there is a plan in place that outlines where that growth is going to come from. Having short- and long-term goals, both agronomic (yields) and financial (margins), is what differentiates a farming enterprise from a farming lifestyle.
2. They know their numbers. Farmer CEO’s sweat the small stuff – and they invest in the tools and spend the time required to know what drives profit at a field and enterprise level. They think of both crop yield and dollar yield. They know their data well enough to apply Danny Klinefelter’s five percent rule to their farm.
3. They cultivate and grow their network. They build relationships with all the members of their operation, with their peers, and with business partners. It’s no surprise that most of our customers are active in peer group organizations, participate in conferences and attend industry events. They are perceived as leaders in their community, but this leadership is a result of not only commercial success, but of a lot of time spent both learning and teaching.
4. They are proactive. They don’t wait for innovation to come to them, they seek it out. They study, compare, and research to understand what will work for their particular operation and why. They chose Granular because it addressed a challenge that they had already identified. They have strong beliefs about what it will take for them to reach their goals (see #1) and they prioritize the tools that are aligned with those beliefs.
5. They stay nimble even as they scale. Our Farmer CEO’s have built a foundation of data, processes and tools on their farm that enables them to make unplanned, responsive decisions. From unexpected weather to potential new traceability regulations, they are more ready to respond to new market incentives and meet rising customer expectations.
The Forbes Agtech Summit is only a small recent example of mainstream business and agriculture communities coming together to address issues that affect us all. We meet and work with Farmer CEO’s every day who proudly belong to both, farmers who want their operation to become stronger and more efficient. And everyone benefits from that.

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