Approximately 75% of the group indicated that they would take more risk in their business models. They now know that difficult times are not permanent. The best time to build businesses is in an economic down cycle; but in the midst of a down cycle, it is often difficult to exercise that perspective. The benefit of hindsight certainly has a tendency to provide clarity. The remaining 25% were at opposite ends of the spectrum concerning business risk. Two of the participants had filed bankruptcy. Simply put, their businesses outgrew their management abilities and financials suffered. Learning from these mistakes, they were able to re-organize and both are now operating successful businesses. Their advice was very succinct; plan, plan, plan!
Family Support is Critical
Emotions were felt as many of the producers expressed thanks for their spouses. The stress of the farm business and life cycle during an economic downturn is often evident at the kitchen tables of Rural America. Some indicated the off-farm income earned by their spouse acted as a bridge that allowed the farm business latitude to make adjustments and actually grow. Others stated the emotional support was the critical factor in maintaining stability and navigating the difficult economic tides. In two cases, individuals pointed to the financial and organizational skills of their spouses as the reason for their sustainability and success.
Learning from the Past
Many identified the 1980s cycle as influencing their life’s priorities. One individual warned to never equate your self-worth to your net worth. Farmland values and other net worth may quickly decrease but should not have the power to affect the things that carry true value. Another couple told the story of their parents who survived both the Great Depression and World War II. Their good decisions during difficult times made their survival possible. We can learn valuable life lessons from the kids of the 1980s. Perhaps by simply listening, the millennial generation (18 to 34 years of age) or the new generation of today can forego some mistakes or missteps in their own lives and businesses.
Everyone in our forum indicated one of the highlights of their farm business career was being involved with agricultural leadership and educational programs. The networking, educational experiences, and travel inside and outside United States provided a valuable, different perspective on business and life. To summarize, the advice of the 1980s kids was to be lifelong learners and establish networking opportunities with peers for both knowledge exchange and supportive fellowship. Economic cycles ebb and flow and provide opportunities. Good times do not last forever, but neither do the bad times. What really matters is how one handles the situation at hand, positively or negatively. Each generation will have challenges and opportunities in maintaining strong relationships both inside and outside the business. The blend of business and personal life worked well for many of the kids of the 1980s. Perhaps good balance will continue to work well for future generations in agriculture too.