Farms gain from having a clear mission and vision

A road map for your farm business starts with a written mission and vision statement which together can be the motivation and direction to keep the farm on track for success.

To be successful, a farm transition plan needs to be part of the daily decisions and the farm’s business direction to avoid conflicting issues that may arise as family members move through their life stages. The first tool that needs to be in place is a mission statement, which is a description of what is, why things are done and what is valued or important to the farm business. The mission statement shapes your farm business and can provide an explanation of a stable, profitable and productive farm business that can be transitioned to the next generation. In order for any group of individuals to work together to achieve a common goal, a clear mission statement should be in place that has been developed and modified over time by the management team. The process of building the mission statement can take some time and, like nearly everything related to a progressive business, needs to be updated from time to time.

The second part of a transition plan is the vision statement – a written description and/or status of how you would like things to be at a point in the future. It’s a picture of the future you are working to create and what you want your business to become.

You can unleash unlimited potential when you empower a group of individuals (your farm management group) with a common vision. This vision can allow them to become a team that has the ability to keep every aspect of the farm focused and going in the same direction. Usually when we look at a major project that needs to be completed, we often develop a team approach, enlisting several individuals to get the job done. When a common vision statement is in place, the management team has a much clearer picture of where they need to go and can work together on what is necessary to get there.

When starting the process to develop a sound business plan or transition plan, the mission statement is your foundation. The mission statement describes what the farm business is, its values and the guiding principles as to how decisions are made.

Taking the farm into the future, on the other hand, is the vision statement. It differs from the mission statement as it states what or how you would like things to be. The vision statement paints a picture of what you want to move toward, giving direction to your decisions and goals. Without a vision of where you are or where you want to go, it would be impossible to build a plan as you will never know if you are heading in the right direction or if you ever arrive where you want to be. Without a vision statement, you lack the road map that you can share with others in your family and the management team of your farm business. Think of how much more progress your farm can make if everyone has a sense of direction and you are all working towards that common goal. A vision statement gives direction, purpose and can be a powerful motivator for everyone that works for and with your farm. To be effective, Michigan State University Extension recommends that your vision statement must:

  1. Be consistent with the core values of the individuals and the business as expressed in the mission statement.
  2. Be communicated to and then accepted by everyone involved in the farm.

Put your vision in a written format, displaying and sharing it with family, staff and business associates, multiplies the potential for success. Be precise and include details in your written vision so others can understand and see what you are trying to achieve. To implement your vision statement, take the time to articulate a clear vision of the future with your ag-business consultants and be sure employees can see the direction you are working toward. Developing visions and missions that are truly shared takes time, effort, energy and commitment. You can’t expect that just because you develop mission and vision statements that everyone will immediately accept and work toward achieving them.

You need to “walk the walk and talk the talk” and be totally committed to your vision statement first yourself. Then discuss them with your employees and consultants at least eight or ten times before they will believe you are really serious and then they will begin to internalize these statements.

The next step is up to you. Are you ready to put your good intentions into action? If so take the first step. Set a goal with a clearly defined outcome, identify who is responsible and set a definite timeline.

Steps in getting your farm transition plan in place:

  1. First line of paperwork is a will and/or trust
  2. Second step is to make sure you are maintaining a current and very detailed Balance Sheet inventory.  
  3. Are members of the family farm business setting goals?  
  4. Develop a vision for the farm business that focuses to a transition plan.
  5. Balance farm and non-farm issues that impact the farm business transition.

If you are part of a family farm, keeping the family farm tradition alive will take some effort and a common focus by the current and future generations of the farm owner-operators. What makes a farm business special is that each operates with individual enterprises, resources and sets of circumstances that are just a little different to the next farm, so there is no universal plan that will fit every situation. Additional resources and information on this topic can be found on the MSU Extension FIRM website .