Modern Farm Business™: Crucial Conversations with Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a four-time New York Times bestselling author, dynamic keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. He has coauthored four immediate New York Times bestsellers with more than three million copies in print: Crucial Conversations, Influencer, Crucial Accountability, and Change Anything. For the past 30 years, Joseph has conducted social science research with the goal to help leaders and organizations achieve new levels of performance. Specifically, he has focused on human behavior—the underlying written and unwritten rules that shape what employees do every day.

This week on Modern Farm Business™ podcast, Dean Heffta picks Joseph's brain and learns a lot about critical communication skills on today's farm.

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Make sure farm numbers add up

In volatile times, everything you do matters. Production practices, people management, handling the finances, and the accuracy of your operation's books are all vital components of a system that add up to make an impact. It takes drive for a farm leader to bring it all together in a positive was and make progress toward the goals they've established. The best leaders are always looking for ways to do a little bit better, everywhere.

One thing that the best leaders are discovering is that knowing the farm's true breakeven is immensely helpful in decision-making. When you've got that information at your fingertips, you don't have to play the guessing game when an investment opportunity shows up that could potentially benefit the operation.

For more on this topic, take a look at Water Street Solutions CEO Darren Frye's latest piece for AgriNews.

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Hone focus to become a more efficient operation

In this environment of tightening margins, a farm leader still needs to move the operation toward its goals. That can at times be difficult with finite resources and the pressure of the changing economic environment of agriculture. But as the economics change, so must the focus of the leader. It must be a multi-pronged focus, both on the broader macro-factors and on individual items on the farm such as the family & business relationships that run the operation, and the farm's financials.

In his latest interview with KRVN's Dewey Nelson, Water Street Account Manager Jason Ladman encourages farm leaders to look very closely at their books and continue keeping accurate and updated records. The numbers can help inform you where you can potentially affect large impacts by making only a few slight changes to operations.

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Stay on track to beat your best, part one

Just as an athlete keeps track of his or her personal bests—fastest time, earned run average, highest score in a single game, passing yards thrown, etc.—and constantly strives to top it, a farmer can do the same...but only if you know which statistics to track. When you set up and track the correct metrics around the operation's efficiency, you can discover the trajectory of the farm, helping you understand whether you're moving toward bettering your best.

Water Street CEO Darren Frye begins exploring this idea in his Finance First post for the week at

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Modern Farm Business™ Podcast: My story. My brand.

Farms that stand out tend to have developed a real brand all their own. Branding today is no longer reserved for just large corporations and Fortune 500 companies. Nowadays, branding is a concern for everything from giant conglomerates down to tiny mom & pop stores, small business owners, online storefronts and even hobbyists.

In this week's podcast, learn how to take your farm’s story to the next level as Dean reviews the components of a more effective message and brand for today’s farm business.

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Who can a farm leader count on for support?

It's important for us to know as humans that we have a support system of people we can really trust and rely on to have our backs or lend advice when we need it. As a farm leader, it's helpful to have someone to keep us on track, remind us of the goals we're pursuing for the operation, and challenge our decision-making in achieving those goals.

Water Street Solutions Director Dean Heffta says the people farmers generally rely on fit into one of three categories: family, farm employees, and outside advisors. Learn more about how to utilize this support system to make a difference on your operation by listening to his latest KRVN interview with Dewey Nelson.

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Protect your operation in all the right ways

A farm leader is responsible for protecting every person and asset in the operation, whether it's the employees' well-being, equipment maintenance, the farm's numbers and progress toward its long-term goals, or ensuring the operation's legacy is intact and ready to carry on to future generations. But sometimes protection of new acquisitions, new entities or side businesses can fall by the wayside, and the leader can tragically find their operation's insurance coverage lacking when it's needed most.

As a company, one of the most common problems we find when we start digging into finances and insurance on a client farm is that of the operation being underinsured or having improper or outdated coverage. Water Street Solutions CEO Darren Frye has advice on what to discuss with your farm's insurance agent, and how often, to make sure that your operation doesn't fall into the trap we have seen happen to too many farms. Read his blog post at

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Build a stronger relationship with your lender

A farmer's relationship with his or her lender is arguably one of the most important business relationships of the operation. It takes a certain amount of effort to forge a great relationship with the banker and to keep it strong.

Water Street Solutions Account Manager Lance Burditt recently spoke with ag broadcaster Dewey Nelson about that farmer-lender relationship, and he made three valuable suggestions that in our experience have been shown to make a difference in creating a steadfast professional relationship with one's banker:

  1. Put yourself in your lender's shoes to help anticipate their needs
  2. Show the lender that you have a solid, forward-looking plan for the operation
  3. Keep your lender in the know with what's happening on the farm

To hear more about how these steps will help your lender relationships, listen to the full KRVN interview.

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Take the worry out of land decisions

When you're a farmer, there's a lot of emotion tied up in the topic of land. You might be farming some ground that was passed down several generations through the family--it's very close to your heart and you treat it with the utmost respect as sort of a family heirloom. You might also have some rented land you've been working that you've grown emotionally attached to; you give it special care and stewardship because it's been entrusted to you by the landlord. Then there's the greatly emotional and anxiety-ridden topic of "future land," or land you've been wanting to get hold of, but haven't yet had the chance.

This week Water Street Solutions CEO Darren Frye shares a way to help eliminate some of the anxiety around the idea of acquiring new land. It all lies in making sure your farm's numbers are up to date. Accurate and updated farm financials take the worry out of making new land decisions because you and your ag finance specialist can run real analyses and forward-looking projections to help determine whether a new land acquisition is feasible or would even prove beneficial to the operation in the long run.

Read more in Darren's Finance First column at

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Podcast: Personal accountability for a great organization

Episode 10 of Modern Farm Business Podcast features a conversation with John G. Miller, best-selling author of QBQ! The Question Behind the Question and other great books about achieving business, professional and personal development through a focus on accountability. Hear how this focus on accountability in your culture can help build an outstanding organization.

Want more of the Modern Farm Business Podcast? Find us in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app today, and click the subscribe button.

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Use farm financials to stay agile for opportunities

Water Street Solutions Ag Finance Advisor Tim Brhel recently spoke on-air with KRVN's Dewey Long about the importance of staying on top of a farm's financial data. Brhel says when a farm leader has up-to-date financial information at their fingertips, it's extremely helpful to use in weighing the viability of new purchases or acquisitions for the operation.

But we're not just talking about the "how we're doing" kind of day-to-day bookkeeping numbers. This means the inclusion of forward-looking projections--analyses of not only current assets and liabilities, but also numbers based on the expectation of what's yet to come. Hear Tim Brhel explain more in-depth by listening to the attached audio.

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Is it time to add more on-farm storage?

This week in his Finance First post on, Water Street CEO Darren Frye answers a reader question about assessing when it's the right time for adding more storage. The answer, in part, depends on how much storage you already have. For instance, generally we recommend being able to store about 80% of your average production. If you're not currently achieving that level, you'll have to figure out how to get the bin to pay for itself over time.

Click the link below to read three different ways Frye suggests this is possible through using a proactive, informed strategy.

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Modern Farm Business Podcast: Supplier & landlord relationships

Working with people outside the farm can be a source of frustration because everyone involved understandably wants to get the best deal for their own business. Win-win situations are fantastic, and sometimes they're the best thing for a specific facet of your operation...but for other aspects all you really need is the best price. Learn how to tell the difference, and better ways to communicate and do business with suppliers and landlords, in episode 9 of Modern Farm Business Podcast.

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When is it the right time to grow the farm?

There are many reasons a farm CEO might be considering growing the operation: Could be out of necessity, such as family members returning to the farm; maybe it's an entrepreneurial spirit urging you to begin a side venture; perhaps growth is a long-term goal for the operation; sometimes an unexpected growth opportunity simply presents itself; or maybe the farm's current assets are being under-utilized, and growth of the operation would mean gaining more efficiency from these assets.

Whatever the reason, Water Street Solutions Account Manager Jason Ladman recently shared with KRVN's Dewey Nelson a list of five things to think about when considering whether it's the right time to expand your operation.

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Who's got the farm leader's back?

It's important to know there are people around whom you can count on when you need them. That's true in life in general, and it's no different when it comes to farming. A support system is critical to success. Whether it's sending two people to perform a task instead of one because of a potential safety issue, or being able to bend the ear of some trusted advisors when you need to organize your thoughts or consider important decisions.

A good support system is made up of a mix of family, employees and advisors who have your operation's best interests at heart. In his latest Finance First post at, Water Street CEO Darren Frye describes what sort of qualities to look for in the people who will genuinely have your back when you need it most. This will help you assess whether your current support system is adequate--and if not, it will give you guidance on whom you should be considering on adding to your support team.

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Listen to what your farm's numbers are telling you

Everything you do on the farm as a leader has either positive or negative implications, and in times where margins are tight, each good or bad management practice adds up even faster. Having the dedication to educate yourself so you arrive at the best possible decisions for your farm -- whether it relates to production, personnel, bookkeeping accuracy, finances or any other facet of farm management -- goes a long way toward reaching the operation's goals.

One thing Water Street Account Manager Jason Ladman recommends is always having your true breakeven numbers at hand to help you make better, more well-informed decisions. A breakeven that is complete and always updated as things change. A breakeven that includes even expenses that might not jump immediately to mind, like machinery investment for instance. The more detail you can incorporate into that calculation, the more informed you will be for making crucial financial decisions for the farm.

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Build operation efficiency as a farm leader

Leading a farm is about more than planting, harvesting, then planning next year's crop. It's also about considering things like finances, equipment, world issues, employees, family dynamics, business relationships, the list goes on...and all that information needs to be boiled down and interpreted into a plan to lead your operation into a brighter, successful future. That future begins with every decision made today to improve the farm right now.

Though growth of the farm in size and scope might be an eventual goal, it's no secret that in the current ag environment, it might not be the best immediate goal for many operations. This means a lot of farm CEOs are concentrating on becoming more efficient to make an impact, honing different aspects of the operation to become a lower-cost producer.

Water Street Solutions CEO Darren Frye has some great ideas to get the farm leader started on this path, and he shared them in his column this week at

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Four steps to finding great employees for your farm

In the latest Modern Farm Business podcast, Dean Heffta builds on the "people" aspect of running a farm by helping listeners streamline the recruiting and hiring process. Find more candidates with the right "fit" by following the process of:

  1. Foundation
  2. Clarification
  3. Communication
  4. Selection

Check out Modern Farm Business for FREE at Subscribe for a new show each week on the iTunes or Play store, or with your favorite podcast application.

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Be intentional about setting the farm's culture

Every farm leader feels the occasional frustration when it comes to managing employees. A well-thought out and carefully crafted farm culture can help alleviate some of those frustrations. We've found that on operations where the culture has just been allowed to unfold on its own, farm leaders are more frequently having to deal with people problems, thus spending a lot less time on the vital work the farm depends on for success.

Jason Ladman recently spoke with farm broadcaster Dewey Nelson about how and why a farm leader should work with intention to form the culture on the farm.

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Accurate farm numbers help make farm decisions

It's sometimes a challenge to stay on top of all the responsibilities of a farm leader and to keep the operation running each day. In addition to the actual farming, there's the people side of the business--working with employees, vendors, suppliers--which can be enough on its own at times. Add to that the business and financial management for the operation, and sometimes one thing or the other ends up getting neglected. Often it's the finances that fall behind.

Not having updated financial records on-hand means any decisions you're making for the farm are not as well-informed as they could be. Our farmer clients find that it makes a big difference when you have up-to-date finances to refer to when considering decisions on behalf of the farm. In his latest Finance First post, Water Street CEO Darren Frye explains why just updating your financial records once a year at tax time is not sufficient for running the best business possible.

Read more about it at

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