Sitting on your Hands

Ask any solider, being in garrison sucks. 

For a warrior, the worst thing that can happen is that there is no war to fight. 

Being in Garrison is the term used for the time that a professional soldier sits on his army base, preparing (or waiting) for war.  There is only so much polishing of belt buckles and cleaning rifles and doing drills that an action oriented man can take.  For action oriented men, it drives them stir crazy. 

The same is with farming and investing in Agriculture. 

As my Grandpa said:

“Walk while the others are running and run while the others walk”.  My Grandfather nearly bought a farm a year for nearly a decade when everyone said “there is no future to farming” because he had “sat on his wallet” during an economic boom.  He set up 4 sons with viable operations and retired young. 

For a son to be on a farm which is focused on paying off debt, while his friends are going in over their heads in debt is a frustrating factor.  However, it might be a prudent move; depending on your perspective. 

On a lot of farms, both the father and son might recognize that now is not the time to invest.  But instead of both generations taking on the world together, they start to in-fight amongst each other.  Military Police are used mostly for the reason of soldiers fighting each other during garrison, not war!

I am not going to go into an economic debate as to whether now is a good time to invest in Agriculture.  I could argue it any way, any day and come up with a convincing argument.  It all depends on your personal perspective of the future economic conditions, your long term business vision and the opportunities locally.  I help men make decisions, but don’t tell men what to decide. 

However, what I am saying is that wars are won during garrison, not on the battlefield. 

How well prepared are you for an opportunity when it does come up?  Why? 

This summer, I had a farmer who feels that it’s not the right time to invest.  He feels land prices are out of control and that within three years there is going to be a serious economic adjustment, creating real opportunities to invest.  I don’t care if he is right or wrong, what I care about is what is he doing while waiting? 

To be honest, he is going crazy.  Not crazy crazy, but this man is not used to waiting.  He is action oriented.  Like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s addiction to Crack; he is addicted to growing farms and creating opportunities.  The man is an empire builder and without his ability to grow his empire, he feels completely lost.  The man was extremely successful in all aspects of life, but without his ability to “do a deal” he was reverting into a slumber of depression. 

I have an immense respect for this man.  Immense. 

But this is what I said to him “What are you doing while in garrison, to get ready for war”? 

He told me that he had bank approval already for millions and told me of other investments that he could quickly cash in, if the right opportunity presented itself. 

But I said, Fred what are you doing to get ready for war? 

We then laid out a program for:

  1. Learning.  What farms do you aspire to be like?  In Canada Dairy farmers do chores daily and occasionally go to neighbor’s barn expansion open houses.  Due to restrictive marketing systems, most of these guys are 200 cow dairy operations whom have a pipedream of someday milking 1,000 cows but they have never been in a barn larger than 500 cows.  By US standards these operations are small, but in their minds these farms are big players.  They are big fish in a small pond.  They never go to California to tour large herds or to learn the mindset of a large herd operator.  If your 20 year goal is to be milking 1,000 cows, then you need to spend your time learning as much as you can from 1,000 cow operators; not neighbors whom are milking 200 cows at a scale similar to yourself.  Regardless of what type/size of farm you are, it’s critical to identify larger farms that you want to become like and then get to know these farms intimately.   Instead of being a big fish in a small pond, you need to start swimming with bigger fish in different ponds and expose yourself to new ways of thinking. 

  2. Brainstorming.  When you go to the grocery store, there is more offered than corn, beans and wheat.  As farmer we are in the business of growing commodities, not food.  We need to change our mindsets to become more profitable per acre.  Spend the time researching alternative crops and production methods that will give you competitive edges.  Will planting a unique strain of apple trees on your current acreage be more of an opportunity in 5 years than buying the farm next door?  

  3. Profitability.  What are you doing to demonstrate exceptional management so that whenever you do borrow money, it’s at 1% below what your neighbor pays?  What are you doing not just to be in the top 1% of farm managers, but to be in the top 1% of managers in all aspects of farm management? Does your Return on Assets exceed 7% per year?  More importantly, what paper trail do you create to show that you are an exceptional manager so that your banker can go to his boss’s boss to prove that you can manage a risky loan when Ag Lending policies are fiscally conservative.        

Sitting on your hands, like a soldier in garrison can be the best strategy for a farm family.  However, make sure you are making the most of your time preparing for war.  Remember Preparation creates Opportunities!