Who makes the decisions on your farm?

Published on Thu, 01/12/2017 - 12:38pm

Who makes the decisions on your farm?

By Emily Wilmes

It seems like a simple question, really: “Who makes the decisions on your farm?” Your response is likely yourself, you and your spouse, you and your siblings, your parents, or something similar. What if the question was rephrased to say, “Who influences the decisions on your farm?” Would you answer the same way? Or would the answer change? It is important to know how decisions are made on your farm, and what influences them.
Think back to my last Dairy Star article about farm teams.  I came up with a large list of people to include on your team, such as herdsman, nutritionist, veterinarian, breeder, lender, and FBM instructor, among many others.  You likely look to these people for guidance or when you have questions, and it is likely that some of them also serve as influencers on your decision-making process.  Want to know how or what they influence?  Map it out.
Oreszczyn, Lane, and Carr (2010) conducted research with farmers in the UK about “webs of influencers”.  The researchers conducted interviews with farmers and at the start of each interview, farmers completed a mapping exercise (Figure 1). Farmers wrote the influencers on their farm business on sticky notes. Next, they placed each of those influencers on a circular grid. The grid was made of concentric circles that were labelled 1 through 6 moving outward. The center circle was labelled “running the farm as a business/farm decision making”.
Individuals or groups the farmer felt had a larger influence on the farm were placed closer to the center of the circle.  Those with less impact were placed on one of the outer circles (see Figure 1).  The researchers took all of the maps created by the farmers and placed the influencers into one of three categories:  foreground influencers, mid-ground influencers, and background influencers.  Individuals as well as organizations were included in this breakdown.  Some foreground influencers included family members, employees, agronomists, and research organizations.  Mid-ground influencers included contractors, other farmers, vendors, and media.  Background influencers included mostly groups like government agencies and the community.

The great thing about an exercise like this is it provides a visual aid for farmers to see the influencers on the farm and their influence level.  In addition, this is something that can easily be done on any farm, at any time.  It can be beneficial for farms that have several family members or other partners involved, as these people usually manage different areas of the dairy, and you may not know who they work with regularly.  Start by asking everyone to contribute to the list of influencers you are going to include on your map.  Think about any person or organization you have had contact with (or has had contact with you) in the last year.  This should provide a sufficient list of individuals and groups.
It may be especially helpful to complete an influence map before a big decision is made or during farm transition planning.  Knowing who your foreground, or biggest influencers, are can be useful.  Those are the people you should seek out most often with questions or if you need help.  Just like I referenced in my Farm Team article, you will use these various influencers for different decisions.  For example, your agronomist will likely not influence a decision about a new calf vaccination program.
Why is it important to know who are your influencers?  It all goes back to my original question, “who makes the decisions on your farm?”  Understanding how decisions are made, and that it is not usually by a singular person, can help make the process easier.  Knowing your influencers can help you understand who impacts your farming practices, and who impacts your views and attitudes.  Knowing who to seek out for different issues leads to quick, well thought-out decisions.  Knowing who makes the decisions on your farm is important, but knowing who influences those decisions is just as important.   

References: Oreszczyn, S., Lane, A., and Carr, S. (2010). The role of networks of practice and webs of influencers on farmers’ engagement with and learning about agricultural innovations. Journal of Rural Studies, 26, 404-417.