Success in 2020 requires looking forward, and backward

Trisha Wagner
Trisha Wagner

Where do you want to be in 2020? How about 2025, or 2030?

Winter is a time of year to think strategically about the farm, for planning and decision making. The new year and decade present an opportunity to pursue new goals or do things differently in the future. It is also a time for reflection on the past, to determine what went well and what could go better. Hindsight is often described as “20 x 20” however in order to have a valuable reflection, it is helpful if one has a plan worth reflecting upon.

What makes for a worthy plan? A good plan doesn’t just help you get where you want to go. Rather, a plan of value is one that includes critical and accurate information, is discussed with those affected, is evaluated by measurable attributes, and is adjustable to changing conditions and information. 

If that sounds complicated, start with what motivates you; what you want in the future. Where do you want to see your farm or yourself personally in the new year? What are 5 and 10 year goals? What will you do differently? Often times, farmers like to skip ahead to the action of the plan; “how” the plan or goals will be achieved. For example, meeting with professional consultants such as a lawyer is necessary to put your plan into action, yet doing so without fully defining the goal(s), could result in a plan that doesn’t meet the needs of the farm or those involved, nor will be it be the best use of resources.

Consider a visioning exercise for the farm and those involved. Next consider how you and those involved will discuss various goals? Recognize that some things may be well-matched and others may be incompatible. How will you manage potential conflicts in a positive manner? An upcoming University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension program, “Cultivating Your Farm Future” being offered across the state by County Educators is designed to help farms consider the future of their farms, and will address these topics. Check out the following site for a location near you

In order to ground truth your plan, you will need to accurately define “where the farm is now”. It will be important to include critical and accurate information and articulate this with those affected by the farm. This information may also inform the vision you and others have for the farm as well. What information do you need to accurately answer and analyze the farm’s current situation? 

Include a written history of the farm, and current information such as who is involved in the farm and their specific roles in management and labor decisions. It is important to include an accurate financial picture as well. Gather important financial statements including the balance sheet and income statement (Schedule F).  Production data and benchmarking information is also important to include. 

The upcoming Extension Farm Pulse program is designed to help farmers utilize their financial statements to make accurate business decisions. The Farm Pulse program is being held in three locations across the state, and one online live webinar program. For more information visit

Finally, it is time to consider, “how will you get there?”. Once your plan is created and articulated with those involved in the farm business. It is finally time for action, almost!  Don’t forget that part of any valuable plan not only includes looking forward, but also backward. Consider how, and how often you will evaluate your plan, what measures will you utilize to determine when things are going well, and when changes need to be made, how will you consider new information and make adjustments?

Next, take time to think about what professional consultants will be helpful to implement your plan. Create a schedule for meetings to keep the implementation of your plan on track. You will make better use of your time, and that of professionals’ when you can present your plan, including where the farm is now, and where you want to be.

Trisha Wagner is the Farm Management Program Manager for the University of Wisconsin – Division of Extension.

UW Extension