No one has ever said that being a farmer is easy. More than just an agricultural profession, managing a farm also means knowing your business inside and out, and planning for the future. It also means knowing how to staff your farm, being part of organisations like an owners corporation, and dealing with difficult situations. Despite how difficult being a farm manager can be, if you ask most farmers if they’d ever change professionals, and they’d say absolutely not. Farming runs in their blood, and will always be their true love. If you’re currently a farm assistant, or even just interested in moving into the farming business, it can take a bit of time, a lot of experience, and plenty of persistence. But, if becoming a farm manager is truly where you want to be now, or even in ten years, we’ve got you covered. Below are five tips that are sure to help you reach farm management in no time.
- Start at the beginning
“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” are the very smart lyrics to a Sound of Music song that can be applied to almost any situation, including your goal to become a farm manager. One surefire way of making your way up to managing a farm is to start from the bottom and work your way up. While often a slower way to go, you can be assured that you learn as much as possible from experience. It also means that you’ll develop relationships and possibly even a mentor, which we’ll go into more below. Starting from the beginning also doesn’t mean that you need to take years to get to a farm manager position. If you have previous life skills and education, you can use this to your advantage and help propel yourself up the ranks faster. Try and list out all the things you’ve learned from previous jobs or education, and see what applies to farming and how you can use it.
- Find a mentor
An amazing way to start learning from the experts is to find yourself a mentor. Even if you can’t find a job with a clear succession path, or with a great manager who teaches you as you go, you can still get that one on one learning from a mentor. Ask around the farming network for contacts. You’ll be surprised at how many people may step up to help you out.
A few ways to get started with a mentor is to set out a plan. Let him or her know what your goals are, and where you’d like to be in say, five or ten years. They can share with you their experience, their hardships, and any mistakes to avoid along the way. We’ve listed some top tips for starting your mentor relationship:
- Don’t be afraid if they’re not much older than you. Not all mentors have to be ancient. Some farm managers have been successful from a young age, and can still be extremely helpful for your career.
- Anytime is a good time for a mentor. Whether you’re just starting out in farming, or have been in it for a few years, you can gain from a mentor relationship.
- Don’t be passive. Just because you’re a mentee doesn’t mean this is take-take relationship. Reach out to your mentor regularly and be active and engaged in the relationship.
You can find additional tips on creating a great mentor relationship, here.
- Get a degree
Besides experience, having a degree is probably the second best way to get the knowledge you need to be successful. There are several degrees which would aid in your career path to farm management, and we’ve listed them below to help you choose.
- Agriculture: Perhaps the most commonly held degree in farm managers is an Agriculture degree. You’ll learn all about agriculture sales, food production and plenty of agriculture science.
- Dairy Science: As its name implies, dairy science is a great field for those of you looking to manage a dairy farm one day. Many people with this degree are highly educated and often go into managing a dairy plant. Here’s some more information about the degree if you’re interested.
- Farm Management: This degree will be a more business focussed one, including new farming technologies and conservation.
- Look into certifications
If you aren’t ready or willing to put the time and money into a degree right now, there other ways to get your CV up and running and your skills more legitimised. A certificate in agriculture, for example, will give you an excellent introduction in using farm technology, get the basics on farming and livestock ideas, and broaden your overall farming knowledge. Look into what your area offers for a faster alternative that still provides you with some credibility. Several different certificates combined can give you a broader knowledge base without spending years in school.
- Get involved in the community
Kind of like a mentor or starting from the bottom, getting involved with your community takes some work but is a great way to gain experience and to network. It’s important to get to know your farming community and understand what the competition is up to. Farming is tough, and finding a network that you can rely on in times of need is really important. It can also mean that you might be the first to know about some extra work, or different work from what you’re used to, to gain experience.
If you are a young farmer, consider joining a group like NZ Young Farmers to expand your network even more, and find like minded people and possibly friends. Try volunteering or helping out a local farmer in need to get involved.
When it comes down to it, remember why you got into farming in the first place. You probably always knew the physical demands and the long days, and the type of pay you’d get. But, your passion, persistence and love for the land has called you to this profession, and will likely keep you there. We wish you the best in your career and if farm management is where you want to be, keep pushing until you have it!