Tag Archives: profit

Tradition vs Innovation Paradox

Another great blog from Ranch Management Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  If what you are doing regularly is only a tradition – start questioning why you continue and if the practice is still effective for today’s economy, whether for your home or business.

sunset cowboyAgriculture is steeped in tradition. These traditions serve as a source of pride and continuity which help make us who we are in agriculture. However, these same traditions create a paradox of sorts when it comes to managing the business of ranching. Balancing respect for traditions and fostering innovation can be tricky to navigate. Another complicating factor in ranching is that business leadership is often slower to transition than most. Generally this is because the decision making is in the hands of a generation that would have retired 10-20 years ago in any other industry. This generation is often making decisions from a place of risk minimization … rightly so from their perspective. However, when Junior is wanting to expand the business to support a growing family this can pit two very different business strategies against each other which often creates conflict on the family ranch.

I think there are some traditions on a ranch that need to be challenged to position the ranch to be successful in the coming decades. Each operation will need to find its own balance between tradition and innovation. Having clear goals will help determine the appropriate balance of risk management and growth strategy for the business.

Below is a short list of common ranch traditions that I suggest you look at and examine why you are doing what you are doing, then put some numbers to what it might look like if you did things differently. I’m certainly not suggesting everyone must change these traditions but have a discussion with your team about the pros and cons of staying the same or changing.

  • Grazing management
    I see far too many ranches where tradition determines the grazing plan rather than good planning. Effective grazing management is one of the most powerful economic levers you can pull. Does each pasture get adequate rest for plant recovery after every grazing? Are your animals in a pasture long enough to allow a second bite? I have never visited a ranch that couldn’t improve their grazing which would allow the ranch to increase carrying capacity, often as much as doubling historic stocking rates, while still improving the condition of the land. Often the driving force for not improving grazing practices involve hanging on to old traditions. Many equate better grazing with more fences or more work. Neither of these must be true.
  • Needing lots of stuff to ranch
    Here is an interesting thought experiment. Make a list of every piece of equipment on the ranch and what it would be worth if sold today. Total up the dollars and now pretend you have that money as cash in your hand and you have no equipment. Paint a picture in your mind of the type of business you want to build. Now, ask the question, “How would we best deploy the capital we now have to create the business we want?” Would you spend it all or save some for a cushion? When times are good on the ranch, we often fall into the trap of upgrading tools that make our lives easier. It is very difficult to go backwards in creature comforts once we step forward. However, from the numbers I’ve seen it is the rare piece of equipment that creates more cash flow than it costs in depreciation and repairs. Tradition might lead us to believe that we need all this stuff to ranch, but economics might be telling us that all this stuff is part of what makes ranching so financially difficult.
  • We should be running cows
    But we have always run cows! What is the purpose of your ranch? Is it to create opportunities for owners to do the things they enjoy or is it to create cash flow and profit to support the owners and provide opportunities for others? Might these two things be in contrast? I’m not saying you can’t run cows and be profitable, but often I observe ranchers who see no other alternative to the current enterprise structure on the ranch. I also don’t believe it is a problem if ownership sees the ranch as a place to allow them to do the things they enjoy – such as running cows. I do see a conflict when the ranch isn’t creating the outcomes required and people are unwilling to look beyond traditional enterprises. Might it be that the ranch could be an even more enjoyable place if it were highly profitable?

Following that line of thought, what other traditions should be challenged on your ranch? Which traditions must be held on to? There are some traditions that are core to who we are, let’s be sure we don’t jeopardize those in pursuit of profit. Balancing the paradox of tradition and innovation is part of what makes this business so interesting.

No One Owes You A Living!

 

The world, including the US, does not owe you a living. Or as Dave Ramsey would say, “You Are NOT Entitled To Anything“. If you dream to make a widget and insist that everyone must support you in your dream and insure that you make a full time living making that widget, then i fear you may be sorely disappointed.  Especially, if your widget making imposes on others’ freedom and property rights.

There are very few, if any, financially successful people with no debt and have, or are building wealth, working only one job.  Often the most successful have at least 2 or 3 other gigs on the side going.  (Even Warren Buffet has several unrelated income streams going!)  When you are in your teens, twenties, and even into thirties, you have energy, vision,  and motivation that enable you to put in 10-16 hours a day, 6 days a week.  This allows you to save, build equity, and work towards your dream job if you aren’t already doing that.  When you are older and that energy level drops, hopefully those side gigs are the money invested which are then working for you rather than you working for it.

I recently wrote a blog which told of the near impossibility of a person to get into farming or ranching these days.  This is largely due to the out of balance cost of land vs its productive value.  However, it is not yet impossible to farm and build wealth – even without incurring massive debt!  It may take longer, however.  And, i know of absolutely no one – young or old, in the present or in the past- who can farm or ranch (or any other business for that matter) full time without some sort of side gig.  Read stories of old timers – they were blacksmiths, carpenters, mechanics, traders, transportation specialists, suppliers; any skill they could put to use for pay was engaged.  Wives farmed alongside their husbands, raised the children, and often had a couple side gigs as well.  (Yes, i know that many women are farmers and ranchers, i am one, but also raised my own children, managed the household, and help with the farm.)  It is the same today – if you want to farm (or start any business for that matter) you’d better put a sharp pencil to how you’ll put food on the table and a roof over your head.  Don’t incur debt and make sure you have some savings.  (a borrower is always slave to the lender).  Operational farm debt is as bad as school loans.  Debt for building  a depreciating asset may be the worst of all!  What if something happens to you?  make sure you have plenty of life insurance!  Liability, maintenance, disease, accident associated with buildings and machinery are expensive and ongoing.  Once debt is incurred for a single purpose gadget, you have to keep it going or you may default or leave your family with a ball and chain which seldom adds value (it may actually devalue) to your property. Better yet, don’t go into debt.

Keep your paying job and save your money before you buy a single acre or cow or gadget. Many ranchers today are leasing both land and cattle which can be a great way to get started with very little investment or risk.  Best book i’ve read on this is Greg Judy’s book, No Risk Ranching.  Maybe you won’t have the exact same opportunities that Greg has, but use your imagination – maybe you’ll have to move – as Allan Nation, founder and former editor of Stockman Grass Farmer, used to say, “Everyone has an unfair advantage.”  Figure out yours and put your best foot forward.

Many farmers today still abide by the ways of Earl Butz to ‘get big or get out’ and we now have such an abundance and overproduction of all products that prices continue to slide.  Yet, the mantra continues to be ‘produce more’  and use the economy of scale to maximise profits.  That may good to a point, but the cost to the environment has been substantial by farming ‘fence row to fence row’  and with government subsidies now firmly entrenched there is less risk of a ‘failed crop’ resulting in going broke regardless of debt load or lack of wise financial planning.

I’m not espousing a return to farmers falling out due to the vagaries of weather, political machinations, or burdensome regulations.  Without subsidies, food, fiber, energy prices could soar to the level of parity and the consumer would certainly cry ‘foul’.  But, we all must remember that the economic  rule of supply and demand may cause us to consider better management practices.

There is the concept of focusing on profit rather than production.  If it is possible to make more money producing 120 bushel corn to the acre rather than 200 bushels to the acre, would that be something to consider?  what is the cost to the land and quality of life to produce 200 and even 300 bushels to the acre?  Can i do a better job of regenerating and improving the soil i have to increase pounds, bushels per acre and lower cost as well?  There are a lot of opportunities and new/old practices to learn – the hard part is keeping it simple and CHANGE!  This is a head issue – don’t be a stiff necked people.

Speaking of quality of life – how have you organised your dream?  does it enhance and edify others?  or detract from the lives of others?  is it sustainable?  is it regenerative?  can you keep doing this for the next 60 years?   If not, it’s not sustainable and you had better have a plan in place for the future, less strong, less energetic you.  Will your model rely on unpaid labor of yourself or your family?

Happy Planning!

 

Proverbs 6:

1My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:  go, hasten,a and plead urgently with your neighbor.

4Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber; 5save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter,blike a bird from the hand of the fowler.

6Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. 7Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, 8she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

9How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 10A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 11and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

12A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, 13winks with his eyes, signalsc with his feet, points with his finger, 14with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord; 15therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

16There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:
17haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

 

When Assets Become Liabilities

 

When Assets Become Liabilities

 

by Dave Pratt

Look up the definition of asset in Webster and it’ll tell you an asset is “anything owned that has value.” But Webster has it wrong.  If I put a down payment on a ranch, financing the balance, the full value of the land shows up in the asset column of my balance sheet, but I don’t own the whole ranch. The bank probably owns more of it than I do. No, an asset isn’t necessarily something you own. An asset is something you have. Your net worth (Assets-Liabilities) is what you actually own.

Although your banker would disagree, there is a completely different way to define assets. In his best seller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki defines assets as “things that put money in your pocket” and liabilities as “things that take money out of your pocket.” Between monthly principle payments, interest, insurance, maintenance and repairs, most of the things your banker calls assets are, according to Kiyosaki, really liabilities.

Ironically, the fancy cars and homes that we see as the trappings of wealth are actually huge constraints to generating wealth. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the finer things in life, but until we build a wealth generating machine as our foundation, buying “liabilities” will slow, and may block, our ability to create wealth.

There is an even bigger problem with assets.

In the final chapter of his wonderful book, Nourishment, Fred Provenza writes about taking a sabbatical to Australia with his family. To finance the trip he needed to sell their home in Utah. He explains that he didn’t build the house himself, but had done a lot of work on it and had “a lot of skin in the game.” Unfortunately, at the time of the sale the housing market was very depressed and, while they got their investment back, they didn’t get much more. Between the time of the sale and their trip to Australia, they rented a smaller house Fred called “the dump.” At first he was resentful of having to give up owning his “castle.” But after a couple of weeks in the dump he began to realize that he hadn’t owned the house he’d helped build. He explained,  “It owned me.” It owned him financially, requiring huge monthly payments. Even after the sale, it owned him emotionally.

Assets can clutter our space and minds, causing distractions and stress. They make it more difficult to clean and organize. They tie us down. The biggest constraint to moving for some of us is the burden of taking all of our stuff with us.

The things we own trap us. I recently had lunch with a couple who’d been ranching for about 10 years. They both worked off-farm to make ends meet. Over the last several years they’d bought a small place, secured several leases, and built up a herd of a couple hundred cows. But now, with a young family, significant debt and the off-farm jobs, they seemed stuck.

After subtracting the liabilities from their “assets” their net worth came to $1,300,000. On the back of a napkin I wrote them a “check” for $1.3 million and asked them, “If you had nothing but this check and the clothes on your back, and still wanted to achieve your dream, would you use this money to recreate the situation you are in? If not, how would you deploy this money to accelerate progress toward your dream?”

Their expression changed almost immediately. While they’d made progress over the last 10 years, the business they created was going to make it difficult if not impossible to achieve their dream.  Rather than a stepping stone, their operation had become an obstacle to further progress. They set out to use the wealth they’d created to change their course.

I went through the identical exercise with another couple whose net worth was closer to $3 million. When I asked if they would recreate the situation they were in, they immediately and in unison said, “No.” But, when I met with them again a year later, they hadn’t changed anything and resigned themselves to “staying the course.” Rather than using the assets they owned to create the lives they dreamed of, they were owned by their assets, which they used as an excuse to stay stuck. Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, described it perfectly when he wrote, “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

Listen to New England Executive Link member, Pat McNiff, explain the cost of keeping assets and the process they used to determine what they needed to keep and what to discard or sell.

4 Responses to “When Assets Become Liabilities”

March 27, 2019 at 2:31 amjames coffelt said:

I believe a personal financial statement is the best tool to measure wealth creation. It considers cattle and land appreciation. Update it twice per year, every bank has one. We measure the wealth creation relative to equity. We further measure the wealth creation against the 8% we can average in the stock market, passively.

Reply

March 27, 2019 at 10:11 am, Roger Ingram said:

Excellent article and video. Should be required reading and viewing for all chapters!

Reply

March 28, 2019 at 1:48 pm, Keith said:

Good article, wouldn’t mind to be receiving such every now and then

Reply

March 28, 2019 at 2:03 pm, Richard Smart said:

Please remember to deduct the tax man’s share when calculating what liquidating your assets will yield.

Reply

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WOTB

The WOTB Test

Most people blame things beyond our control like the weather, government regulation, low commodity prices and increasing costs for their failure to make a healthy profit. These are the things most often discussed at producer meetings and in the coffee shop. These are also things we can do little about. Making them the scapegoats for poor performance makes it easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility. But if prices, costs, weather and regulation really determine profit or loss, why do some businesses survive, even thrive, in these conditions while others fail? Depressed markets are a crisis for some but a profitable opportunity for others. It is not the situation, but the decisions we make that determine success or failure.

According to the US Small Business Administration, most new businesses fail. Fewer than 10% survive to see their 10th year. In his best-selling book, The E-myth Revisited, Michael Gerber points to an exception. He says that 97% of new franchises survive beyond 10 years. Why the difference? Simply put, franchises have a clear-cut blueprint on how to run a business. McDonalds doesn’t succeed because they make the best hamburgers or because they hire the smartest, talented people to work behind the counter. Over the years they have achieved economies of scale and have a lot of clout when it comes to negotiating lower costs with their suppliers. But they wouldn’t have been in the position to do that if they hadn’t built a business that actually works. They didn’t grow first and then figure it out. They figured it out and then they grew.

As Gerber puts it, they worked on the business (WOTB) to build a business that actually works. We are so busy working in the businesses (WITB) doing $10/hour jobs that we often don’t ever get around to working on our businesses (the $100/hour work). This is the work that determines the winners and the losers in any business…including yours. More than genetics, prices, weather or any other factor, it is this issue that separates the men (and women) from the boys
(and girls) in ranching.

Our ranches suffer economically, financially and ecologically when WOTB takes a back seat to WITB. Our failure to effectively work on our businesses is the single biggest reason that most ranches aren’t profitable and that most ranches don’t survive generational succession with their land or family intact.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Ranching can make a healthy profit, thrive ecologically, stay in the family indefinitely and be the stimulus for revitalizing rural communities. You put your ranch on the path to achieve these results when you put the shovel down and pick up the pencil … when you start working on it, not just in it.

I’ve heard some complain that they don’t like working on their business. I wonder if the real problem is that they don’t know how to work on it. Previous generations may have been able to get by without WOTB when land values were cheaper and their ranch had only been split once by a generational transfer. But times and conditions have changed. What passed for management then, doesn’t pass muster now.

Score yourself to see how effectively you are working on your business:

Scoring:  0 = I have not addressed this issue
5 = I have addressed the issue but have more work to do
10 = This describes my business.

ARE-YOU-WORKING-ON-YOUR-BUSINESS-chart-1

If you scored more than 70, congratulations! You probably have a healthy business with a promising future. If you scored 40 to 70, you’ll be feeling the pinch but will probably continue to get by with off-farm income subsidizing the place … at least until it comes time to pass the ranch on to the next generation. If you scored less than 40, you might want to think about going to work as a cowboy for someone else. If you want a good job, I suggest you hire on with someone who scored more than 60. He’s the one who’s Ranching For Profit.

 

Be sure to check out Dave Pratt’s Ranching for Profit website for more information and to see if his week long school would be something that will help your business!

The ‘Simple’ Life?

There seems to be a resurgence of retirees wanting to get back to a ‘simple’ life of growing their own garden and/or raising their own animals for food, milk, and/or fiber.  Interestingly, it also seems to attract the young set as well with high hopes of being self-sufficient on the land.  Nothing wrong with those ideals, but our American culture and requirements are different than what they were 100 or even 50-60 years ago.  Many of our expenses are out of our control (health insurance, liability insurance, our reliance on electricity, phones, internet, medical expenses are out of sight, vehicles, petrol, etc, etc), so the ‘farm’ whether it is a hobby size or much larger needs to not only cover these expenses, but operating expenses as well.  In other words, one must turn a profit to be sustainable.  Don’t forget that ‘simple’ certainly does not mean easy.

I’ve blogged on this before, but one thing that is a killer to many striking out in an agrarian lifestyle is to get FAR TOO MANY irons in the fire.  Focus on what you like to do and that which will also turn a profit quickly.  After you become financially successful as to being out of debt and putting away a bit of savings, find other ‘holons‘ which will complement or add value to the core activity.  Don’t be distracted by get-rich schemes – they do not exist in agriculture.  If you have a town job – hang on to it until the farm is a going concern.  Doing both is hard – no doubt – but staying out of debt is tantamount to being successful.

This type of operation is typically termed ‘holistically managed’ and there are resources to help you determine a course of action.  Our first introduction to this type of thinking was through Holistic Management Resources now known as HMI, Holistic Management International.  This link will take you directly to some free downloadable planning tools and and teaching materials.  Allan Savory and his wife, Jody Butterfield, started HMI, but have now moved on to start a new organisation called Savory Institute.  The Savory Institute website has numerous videos and papers for your perusal.

Considerations:

Marketing – where will you sell your product?

Equipment – how much will the initial investment be?  How often will it be used? Does it have multiple uses?  How can you make money with what you already own?  If there is equipment you don’t use, consider selling it.

Time – when will the cash start flowing back to you?

Weather – Ag enterprises look so easy on paper, but consider that you have no control over the weather and inclement extremes can bring diseases in both plants and animals as well as drought and flooding, damaging hail can destroy thousands of acres of crops in just minutes.  Be prepared, both financially and mentally, for complete failures and steep market price declines.

Government – you also have no control over government policies as it picks winners and losers.

Don’t spread yourself out to a lot of enterprises – especially those that are not related – you’ll be exhausted all the time and seldom see a financial reward.  Also try to purchase multi-purpose equipment.

Learn from others’ failures, mistakes, and accomplishments.  Your situation may be different, but there is no use setting up the same hurdles others have taken down.  Some practices simply DO NOT WORK in some or all locales and situations.

Hindsight, of course, is much clearer as to making business decisions, but there are basic principles to be followed.

What is your dream job/career/life?  And how are you moving towards it?  Have you already experienced your dream job and found it wanting?  Why?

Lambing out of season!  Bad, bad mistakes.
Lambing out of season! Bad, bad mistakes.
Calving out of sync with nature - expensive!
Calving out of sync with nature – expensive!
Cattle chopping ice
Chopping ice in the winter is oftentimes a necessary job.
countries 2 001
Unfortunately, livestock dies, in this case just an accident. Found her dead. So discouraging……!
photos yesterday 005
Rappelled down a 25 foot bank to this calf, then laid out flat across the mud to reach it with a log chain which i wrapped around its neck. Chain wasn’t long enough to reach back up to my Gator, but thankfully, I had this 30 foot horse lunge line with me. Pulled the calf up and out. It survived and was sold here a couple weeks ago!

Think Return per acre not Return per Cow

Mr Teichert is a cattle ranch consultant, so he thinks in terms of cows, but this thought can apply to most livestock and may even extend to orchards (think dwarf vs standard trees) and other horticulture schemes.  Here is another thought from a man whom I’ve yet to meet, who has words of wisdom and experience worth pondering taken from his column “Strategic Planning for the Ranch” in Beef magazine”

Think Return Per Acre Rather Than Return Per Cow

“We often get so caught up in “maximums” that we forget the distinct possibility that running more cows that are small and give less milk might provide a greater return per acre while producing less return per cow.  The calf-crop percentages might be greater, while cost per cow and cost per acre might both be significantly lower, which will greatly increase profit.  We want to improve the productivity and profitability of our entire ranch, not production or profit per cow.”

Burke Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves Inc.  He resides in Orem, Utah.  Contact him at burketei@comcast.com

Prioritize for Profit

When it’s ridiculously cold outside, sometimes it’s best to just sit and think (once all the work and chores are done).  Here is a thought from a man whom I’ve yet to meet, who has words of wisdom worth pondering taken from his column “Strategic Planning for the Ranch” in Beef magazine

Prioritize for profit rather than convenience.

Sometimes convenience and profit are closely related, other times, they aren’t related at all or may even be antagonistic.  Don’t let your desire for convenience get in the way of improving profit — unless, of course, you’re already profitable enough and convenience can add enough quality of life to offset foregone profit.”

Burke Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves Inc.  He resides in Orem, Utah.  Contact him at burketei@comcast.com