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Farming without a finish line

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 01 March 2020

While basketball season is winding down for local schools across the country, it’s time to ramp up for the NCAA tournament. And before that season (in one never-ending cycle), basketball stepped on the heels of the Super Bowl, as one season of competition continuously meshes into another.

As I attend quite a few school sporting events in our community, I’m always a little fascinated to see how many pairs of muddy boots, Carhartt jackets with welding holes in them and sweat-stained and sun-faded ball caps show up. In our ag-prevalent area, there are really quite a few folks who come straight from the field. Farmers and ranchers, whether in the middle of harvest or the middle of calving season, somehow find the time to attend these games that often start smack dab in the middle of the afternoon when there’s still plenty of daylight. And not all of these folks have kids or grandkids playing, so what is it about a sporting event that makes them come?

In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek identifies two types of games, as they relate to business: the infinite and the finite. Finite games have goal lines, set rules, scores and winners (or losers), and they inspire high-fives and the touchdown dance. Basketball and football are examples of finite games in the sports world, but there are plenty of businesses in the S&P 500 that fit this list as well. A business that defines itself by quarterly earnings is finite. A finite-focused company may find innovative ways to boost the bottom line, but those decisions do not benefit the organization, the employees or the community for the long term.

In contrast, the infinite game has no finish line. The goal of an infinite game is to keep playing the game. The goal of the infinite business is to stay in business, so all decisions have to benefit the entire company (and elements within its influence) for the long term.

With just that tidbit for an explanation, would you put farming and ranching in the finite game category or in the infinite game category? I’m not sure we’d all categorize it the same way. It could be either, in reality, depending on the leadership behind it. Here is a quote from the book that might help you decide which type of leadership mindset you have:

“The choice to lead with an infinite mindset is less like preparing for a football game and more like the decision to get into shape.”

So are you preparing for the football game (or this growing season only), or getting into shape (farming for the long haul)? I bring this up because another indicator that I watch, besides who attends middle-of-the-afternoon school sports events, is how many farmers and ranchers show up for crop and livestock schools around the country, and which workshops are better attended. We all know if crop advisor credits, Beef Quality Assurance or chemical applicator credits are offered, there’s fairly good attendance (and if a free lunch is included you’ll always see a few more). But which workshops are the most popular overall?

Well, from where I sit, it’s not differentiated by crop type (hay versus potato, grain, livestock, etc.). It’s the soil conferences that really pull people in. Why is that? Is it because soil is so much more fascinating than any crop that comes from it? I don’t think so. I think it’s because these folks are playing the infinite game. They’re not just playing for this season; they’re playing the long game. Bean prices will go up and down, protein markets will wax and wane, other grain and commodity markets can fluctuate with a tweet or a new flu-strain outbreak. But soil? Its value is resilient to all of that.

So if you have a short-game style of leadership, you likely won’t be “in the game” for long. The markets will weed you out. If you’re in it for the infinite game, then you know healthy soil is really the basis of what you can control and the key to resilience (and I’ll see you at the next soils meeting – and muddy boots are welcome).  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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