The four of us were sitting in the living room – mom and dad, my brother, and myself. The three of them were discussing a potential opportunity for renting some additional farmland, but they weren’t sure about the requested rent price. I offered a simple solution: “Why not plug the numbers into Jeremy’s formulas?”
That’s all it took. My brother brought out his laptop computer, grilled dad on the final input prices we paid for this year, and calculated an estimate on our potential break even point for the farmland in question. It was a no go and we had to pass on the property.
What probably seems like a standard business practice was a long time coming here.
My brother was never a fan of school. He always knew he wanted to be a farmer and, quite frankly, the subjects in high school just didn’t really interest him all that much. After all, you don’t necessarily need to read To Kill a Mockingbird to successfully drive a tractor or harvest corn.
But when he graduated high school I begged him to consider at least getting an associate’s degree from the local community college. I tried to rationalize the situation – what if farming was one day not an option for him? What if he needed a different career path? Wasn’t a back-up plan better than nothing? I’m not sure he really ever bought into any of my arguments.
That fall, Jeremy enrolled at the local community college under a compromise: he would take classes and work toward a business degree, but his schedule would be only part-time in the fall so he could help with harvest. I think he was actually surprised when he figured out he actually enjoyed college. Unlike high school, he was able to take classes that actually had real application to what he wanted to do. While he still had to take a couple classes that weren’t his bread and butter, I think he was pleasantly surprised to find that he was really able to excel and do well….and maybe even have a little bit of fun.
I was so proud of him when he graduated with his degree in Business.
And I’m even more proud of him now as he uses that education to make the farm more business savvy. Mom and dad may have generally kept track of gross inputs versus gross profits, but leave a lot of it up to the accountant. In other words, they had a general idea of things but the details were fuzzy.
Jeremy takes it all to another level.
Not only does he tally the average price we need to get for our crops to be profitable, he can get so much more specific than that. He knows exactly how each field yields and how that impacts our profit margin (er…or the loss…). Not only does he know the average we need to sell our crops for to be profitable, he can break that down to each field. In these times, when commodity prices are very low and the profit margin is particularly thin, this an incredibly valuable skill to have.
Of course, like most farmers, Jeremy’s passion for agriculture spurs on a lot of not-so-formal education as well. He’s always staying up on the latest information and learning more about every aspect of the job. However, there is absolutely no doubt that earning his degree made a difference.
It is true that not everyone needs a four-year degree. Not everyone needs to be saddled with student loan debt. Not everyone needs to be a full-time student. Not everyone needs to have a degree of any kind to be successful. Jeremy is proof.
But before you completely dismiss it or decide it isn’t necessary, think about it carefully. If there is a particular area that you find difficult, perhaps taking a couple classes would be beneficial. If there are skills that other people on the farm don’t have, maybe this is an opportunity for you to fill the gap. And if, heaven forbid, one day the farm isn’t where you get to work, maybe those lessons will come in handy.