This is not a strategy unique to agriculture. You can use this for a business, a relationship, your own life, whatever. Having a vision of what you would like something to look like in one, three, five, ten years’ time is an integral part of creating that thing. If you have this vision, you have a direction. You can order your activities in pursuit of that vision. It is a highly effective strategy as old as Rome.
What is your ideal farm? How you go about this strategy depends on whether you have control over a farm or not. If you do, or you will in the future, you can use that farm as a template for your vision. If you don’t own a farm yet, you can use this exercise to help you decide on what kind of farm you would like to run. Do you want to deal with steep hills or flat plains? Livestock or cropping? Remote or close to a regional centre? How big or small? The great thing about regenerative agriculture: it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, these concepts will apply just as well. Building out your ideal vision of your farm is crucial to regenerative agriculture. Before you can engage the complex systems beneath and above the soil, we ought to sort out the complex system between your ears.
It’s not just farming. Farmers aren’t just farming. We are also running a business. What is the best strategy in insulating a business against hard times? Diversification. Are you just a farmer, or can you add value in some other ways? What will you do if food prices go down and you are no longer able to maintain your current lifestyle because you put all your eggs in your farmer basket? This is a risk you might want to take – you might back your marketing skills in hard times, or you might not see food prices ever going down. These are all fair arguments able to be justified. If you don’t want to put all your eggs in that basket, how might you diversify? Could you diversify within food production, or would you provide farm tours, accommodation, hospitality, agriculture courses? Find ways that you can provide value to consumers, and you will find ways to make money. These considerations ought to be made when creating your vision.
Let’s take my vision for our family farm. I try to keep this vision in mind most of the time, but I try to keep in mind that this vision may not eventuate until a decade from now, perhaps even more. I envision our farm being an abundant, diversified business between four divisions: direct-to-consumer produce, accommodation, guided eco tours and education. Other possible side ventures include tree propagation, reclaimed timber furniture production and whatever other ventures family members decide to engage in. This vision is specific to my situation as a young man with a certain skillset and risk profile. Your vision should also reflect these life facts about yourself.
There is a need for flexibility here. The reality: your vision will not be executed. I’ll paraphrase Matthew McConaughey, who describes this well. When he was 15, someone asked him who his hero was. After some thought, he said, “my hero is myself in ten years’ time”. When he was 25, the same person asked him if he was his own hero yet? His response, “Not even close, my hero now is always myself in ten years’ time. I will never stop progressing. That’s what life is about.” Take this same approach to creating a vision for your farm. For a perfectionist, this might take the pressure off. Whatever vision you write down or start to picture in your head, it doesn’t matter if it ends up being way off. The point is that you had a vision. That you are going in some direction. Wherever you end up will be a far better place than if you had no direction. You don’t want to be sailing in circles in the middle of the ocean because you couldn’t decide on the perfect island to settle on.
In building your specific farm vision, it will help to have a framework to start. The following course will be divided into several parts. These parts, or categories, can provide the framework for your vision. Let’s go through each of them quickly.
First, we have soil health: what do you want your soils to look like in 10 years? Should they be dark, full of worms and able to hold water? Should they be building carbon or releasing it? Should they enable nutrients to cycle or keep them locked up? How is the soil going to be covered year-round?
Second, we have our grazing strategy. Do we want livestock on the property? If yes, what kind of livestock? Ideally, how many times per week do you want to be moving the stock? How might this change across seasons, or even school holidays if you have kids? How many mobs is ideal?
Third, we have infrastructure. How many paddocks might we want? How does this relate to how many mobs we want? How does the type of fencing relate to the kind of livestock we have? What kind of water do we need? How much do we need to invest in this infrastructure?
Fourth, we have trees. Do you need to plant trees? How might the trees look on the landscape? How will they contribute to nutrient cycling and water flows? What kinds of trees would you like to plant? How might the trees contribute to the income on the farm in the long-term? Would you like them to be a long-term cash flow, a shorter-term one, or not at all?
There are plenty of questions to be asked. Do your best to answer these questions about your farm and how you would like it to look in the long-term. If you aren’t sure, or your response was: “I thought the answers to these questions would be in this course”, then leave those questions and I’ll remind you come back to them at the end. Plenty of these things are difficult to answer without understanding the principles yet, but we ought to have a vision of a vision to create a proper vision at the end of this course.
I’ll see you in the next one!