Ask ten different successful farmers to name what they think the ten most important skills or attributes for new organic farmers are, and you’re sure to get dozens of different answers. Everyone has a different opinion.
Also, the skills and attributes you’ll really need will vary widely depending on the type of farming you’re doing.
Opinions aside, if you’re considering farming as a career, there are some key skills and attributes that are maybe more important than others. If you’re missing one of the key skill below, no worries. This doesn’t mean you’ll never be a farmer. It simply means you should think about how you can improve your skills or attributes in a particular area.
1. Organizational Skills
If you never balance your checkbook and can’t locate your health insurance paperwork, farming will come as a crazy shock to your unorganized system.
Farmers, must keep all kinds of records accurately and regularly. From invoices to certification paperwork to warranties to taxes to labor contracts to payroll, you’re going to have all kinds of paperwork to keep organized. Misplacing files isn’t an option for successful farmers.
Later on, if organizing is getting to you, you can hire someone to do it for you, or at the very least invest in some good software. However, in the beginning, there’s a good chance you’ll be handling the paperwork, so it’s best to learn how to get organized now.
2. Management Skills
Even if you’re running a very small farm, with few people to manage, management skills will come in handy. Management skills can be used to keep yourself in check, allow you to manage your business associates better (such as agents and buyers), and of course come in handy with the employees you have.
3. Business Savvy
Growing crops and caring for livestock are important skills for sure. However, all profitable farmers also need business skills that go beyond practical farming skills. As a farmer you’ll be dealing with banks and other finance issues, working with buyers and sellers, dealing with marketing and promotions and much more.
You’ll be doing tasks like balancing and writing budgets, paying bills, hiring employees, keeping records, writing your business plan, building a company website, designing marketing materials and more. A lot of farming is practical (growing, harvesting, clean-up) but a fair amount of your time, at least until you can hire help, will be spent running the business end of things.
4. People Skills
Interpersonal skills are a big deal for most business owners, including farmers. In fact, farmers have to work even harder than regular businessmen on interpersonal skills because not all consumers know about their products. On top of that you’ll work with, and need to communicate with other farmers, ranchers, agricultural managers, certification agents, laborers, buyers and more.
In order to thrive, you’ll need effective communication skills, the ability to debate nicely and a willingness to be around people.
5. Life Long Learner
If pursuing lifelong education and new experiences isn’t something you’re interested in, then farming may not be for you. Farmers can always learn new skills and update current skills.
Learning can take many forms. Many farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers train under more experienced farmers, but college training is becoming a norm as well. Universities offer plenty of opportunities to learn as do government projects. Apprenticeships, books, conferences, classes, keeping current on farming trends, workshops and learning by doing are all great ways to stay fresh and remain knowledgeable, even as times change.
6. Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills
Almost anyone can learn how to grow crops or manage livestock, but good analytical skills are the difference between simply going through the motions and really thinking issues through and doing tasks well. For example, in the ever-changing landscape of farming (literally and figuratively) a farmer will use comprehensive skills to monitor and assess the quality of their land, crops or livestock and to solve problems as they arise.
As a farmer, you often must think on the fly, so great critical thinking skills are also key. For example, can you think your way around tough weather conditions appropriately?
Excellent analytical and critical thinking skills will allow you to analyze the toughest situations, gather new information and formulate a plan that may be outside of the box. You won’t be able to solve every farm problem with a textbook.
7. A Mechanical Mind
Although mechanical knowledge isn’t entirely necessary for farmers, learning to become more mechanical minded is extremely useful and can save you money and time. Most farmers need some machine operation skills and especially those who are working on smaller farms where there’s not always someone else around to fix or operate complex machinery. Additionally, most farmers should take the time to learn about how to complete occasional routine maintenance on basic farm machinery.