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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Farm life > Look back to look ahead

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Look back to look ahead

Betty Berning

The end of the year is rapidly approaching. It is a special time of family, friends, and reflection. As 2016 comes to an end, look at the year past and the year ahead. I’d like to suggest that you ask yourself four questions:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn't go well?
  3. What do I want to do differently?
  4. Where do I want to go from here?

Being positive is important. Start off by identifying areas where things went as planned. It was a tough year. You survived. What did you do well? What are you grateful for? Maybe your family worked well together. Perhaps the cows had great production. In spite of the slow harvest, did you have record yields? Look at your victories. Spend some time analyzing them and asking “why did this happen? What was my role in it?” This will help you understand what behaviors or actions made a difference and what to continue in the future. It is really important to focus on the positive during challenging times.

Moving on, think about what didn’t go well. Was it milk price? Completing harvest? There were a lot of challenges this year. Be honest with yourself about what didn’t go well and stick to the facts. There is no need to throw a pity party. Pick a few key issues. Determine what you had control over and what you didn’t have control over.

There are many things that fall in a gray area; we can’t completely control them, but we have some control. For example, we don’t control milk price, but we can take advantage of opportunities to forward contract milk. Another example is weather. We don’t control the weather. However, you can think about how to prioritize field work on good weather days and who might be able to pitch in so that you can get more done on those days.

Look ahead, what do you want to do differently? It might be as simple as avoiding some of the issues identified in question #2. It could also be that you are looking to make some changes to your farm in the form of expansion, adding a child as a business partner, hiring additional labor, etc. These are opportunities for you to improve.

Last question: Where do I want to go from here? If you answer this question after you’ve answered the previous three, this should be the easiest to answer. This is where you can start to think about your farm’s vision and strategic plans. Think about what your goals are for 2017 and even beyond (5-year goals? 10-year goals?) What is it that you want to accomplish? What changes need to occur? If you’re thinking about expansion, do you have a plan in place? Are you following that plan? Where might your plan need to be changed? If you haven’t written these things out, write them out now. Then you can revisit them on a regular basis.

Not everyone likes to write out goals. Some people like to stay in the present moment. Generally speaking, that’s a good way to live on a daily basis; however, on occasion, a business (any business, including a farm) must look at its past and learn. It must also look forward to identify where it might like to go. Without an idea of where you may be headed, it is difficult to know what steps are needed next. In other words, without a roadmap, it’s hard to find your destination.

2016 is almost over. 2017 will be a new year that is completely different. There will be new challenges and opportunities. Take time to reflect. Think of it as strategic business planning. Talk to your business partners and family about your answers to the above questions. Discuss their answers to the questions. Together you can create a great plan and vision for your business moving forward.

Although 2016 hasn’t been easy, be sure to be positive and focus on what you can control. Keep after your goals and adjust them where you need. Finally, be patient. Lots of small steps add up over time. Life is a journey made up of many steps. We don’t arrive at our destination immediately. Keep stepping forward toward your destination. With time and hard work, your many small steps will bring you to your goal. Best wishes to you!

December 2016

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