TEPAP 2024

It’s Like Drinking Out of a Firehose – The next level of agriculture education down in Texas.


I am not going to lie, my head hurts. Seven days of information overload may finally be catching up to this guy. 


For those who have been through the TEPAP program, you know that this is not a holiday. 


Yes, I picked the best week as winter finally hit the prairies while I was eating out on terraces in the sun, but it was far from a holiday. It consists of long days with a significant amount of high-level information aimed at changing the way you think about farming. 


I had heard this before, I just had trouble believing that one week was enough time to change a lifetime of opinions. I now can unequivocally say that this program has no competitors. 


And that is coming from me, an individual who is trying to build a program on the same level.


So, what did I learn? 


I learned that the moment you think you are ahead, somebody else has already passed you. 


For our organization, I truly believe that our biggest adversary is complacency. As farmers, we tend to get comfortable and forget to push for the uncommon. So, since I love using quotes to get my point across, here are the top quotes that taught me something over the past seven days.


Do You Want to Be King or Queen, or Do You Want to Be Rich? – Lance Woodbury


This must be the most impactful message that came from the week. Whether it was discussed regarding human resources, succession and transition, or even strategic planning, the point of the message remains clear. You can either focus on having control over every aspect of your business or you can learn to build out your team and create the opportunity for growth. 


The ability to build people up and delegate in agriculture is far behind all other industries. We continue to fight the narrative of the “corporate farm”, but in the end, we are fighting change and what those types of mindset shifts can do to a business. In the end, it will remain a family farm, the question is whether you want the stress that comes along with being King or Queen.


We are Navigating by the Stars Under Cloudy Skies – Ed Seifried (by Jerome Powell)


In discussion, this solely related to macroeconomics and where the industry was going to see inflation, interest rates, and gross domestic product moving forward. I however had the chance to discuss this with “Dr Ed” and can truly relate this to many aspects of business. We as producers don’t know what the next growing season will bring. For Saskatchewan, it was a wide-scale drought followed by a softening in commodity markets rolling into the new year. For other parts of the country, it may have been trading tariffs, consumer trends, or many other aspects that create risk in agriculture.


The clear message came through as “we don’t know what we don’t know”. We are currently in what could be a downturn in the industry, and we are trying to navigate the unknown without information or data that can be considered reliable or relevant. It feels a bit like starting over after the last few years of high prices and decent yields. For many, the skies will need to clear quickly, or the storm may be worse than we all realize.


There is no Traffic Jam in the Extra Mile – Dr Dave Kohl


I forwarded this one directly to our public relations team to post on social media as it was so impactful. Tying it back to the complacency comment I started with, this struck me as so simple yet profound. It could have been the fact that Dr. Kohl presents like he was shot out of a cannon (in fact at 78 he had more energy than anybody else in the room that day). 


The industry of agriculture can be laid back and comfortable. Rarely do you see producers try to get outside the box and do things uncommon to the environment we grew up in. This is why we always have commented, “The most dangerous phrase in agriculture is that we have always done it this way”. This quote reaffirms that those who go above and beyond to push limits in the industry, whether through production, marketing, operations, or any other facet of business, will often end up further ahead. The old 5% rule rears its ugly head again; in the end, we are all on the same road, it just depends on how fast or far you want to drive.


A Meeting Without an Agenda is an Attack – Chris Barron


I think we can all apply this in both business and our personal lives at times. Being “ambushed” or having the “element of surprise” used against you is a lesson that we all learn early in life. This message was loud and clear; we all run million-dollar farm operations, and the time for emotion when it comes to conflict is over. Professionalism and the boardroom mentality are the future of primary producer operations and how we continue to grow.


The ability to come together as a leadership group is highly important in growing farms today. There are too many moving parts to manage for one individual, it takes a team to create a legacy. We all realize that meetings must continue to be productive for them to provide value. Having clear set agendas and expectations when it comes to conflict resolution is a must in agriculture (and every other industry). I like conflict, but knowing what’s coming and being prepared keeps the battle from becoming a war.


What Gets Measured Gets Done – Allan Gray


As farmers, we all love goal setting (pretty sure many of you just closed the blog). The statistics however are ironclad that by setting goals and having them written down, the median will create 4X as much wealth in a lifetime. Accountability and vision in primary producer agriculture is not a skill set that most are taught or even want to learn when going back to the family farm. Other industries have learned these results much earlier in the growth stage, and this is why they have less trouble moving from a stable family business into a legacy institution.


This is not an attack or even an assumption that none of you have ever had a goal. It is however an attack that most of you have never written down or told anybody else on your team that goal. Until it is spoken or written it does not exist. Accountability is the only motivation for most to achieve, and if you don’t have anybody to be accountable to it is irrelevant. All farms can recite their yields from the last five years, but not many can tell me where they are going and how they are going to get there when it comes to the business.


To Be Successful in Agriculture is About Being Boring – Dr Dave Kohl


“What are they doing that I am not?”I have heard this quote more times than I can even recollect, but it is always tied to a neighbour and their new combine, new truck, or new house. Kristjan, and now I, have probably given the 5% rules speech more times than we want to admit. The problem is that we lose people in math when the moral has nothing to do with the numbers. The entire purpose of the presentation ties back to mindset and how to progress forward and be better than those around you.


To be better than your competition often does not require large-scale changes. It can be simple things such as a small drop in costs due to equipment efficiencies, or a small increase in revenue due to crop or input varieties. Maybe it is a return on the work that one of your employees is providing or the fact that you locked your interest rates long-term back when it was advantageous. The part about agriculture that is ironic, is that the difference between the top producers and bottom producers is a very small scale. You don’t have to be Elon Musk. Most of you can succeed just by being you X 1%.


Uncertainty Breeds Anxiety, Anxiety Breeds Conflict – Lance Woodbury


How transparent are you with your team? Do you share your expansion plans, your financial results, your values, and dreams? I ask these questions because it matters. Let’s use exhibit A – you farm 3,000 acres with your family and your parents are turning 80 next week. You have never talked about succession or transition, and you have two family members who are not active on the farm. As a farmer, you came back directly out of school and have worked for forty years on the operation. You have never bought land because you are “pretty sure” you are taking over the land if something happens. How is your stress level?


It shocked me to hear these stories over the last week. I often get the side from ageing farms that the next generation has an “entitlement” attitude, but this week I believe that the ageing generation also has done a disservice by having a “transparency” issue. Our operation has laid out the future for me as a non-family member participating in growth and equity. I know what happens in the worst-case scenario, otherwise, I probably would not have made the choices in my career that I did. If the goal is to ever get a good night’s sleep, I would probably get rid of the uncertainty in my business as a first step.


I am still processing the large amount of information that I took in over the last week. I have notes, slides, and networks to review, analyze, and track over the next few months as I decide exactly what action steps I need to take. I like to think that I am ahead of the bell curve when it comes to financial and operational management on farms, but my ego may have taken a slight hit being with some legends of the industry the last few days. I am just glad that I got the opportunity to participate before the “changing of the guard” as I believe ag education will have a transition just as our farms have had to. There is a lot of information that needs to be passed in the next few years so as not to lose the momentum that they have created. I just hope that one day I can repay others the way that I feel they have done for me.


For more information on the TEPAP (Texas A&M Executive Program for Agriculture Producers) please visit www.tepap.tamu.edu.