Farmers: A Different Style of Leadership

If there is one skill farmers have honed, it's being in charge. They're born leaders.

After all, they choose their crop inputs, map out their field fertility plans, invest in livestock and feed stocks, decide on crop insurance, determine when commodity prices are right, spend the money they need for the equipment to make it all happen, and choose to get up before the roosters each day because there's a lot to accomplish. Often times, the farmers I know, do not stop until long after the sun has called it a day.

And while they are busy running their farms and helping raise their families, many also decide to become involved in their communities. You'll find farmers in rural areas involved in all kinds of things-from memberships on the local school board, board of supervisors, elevator board, electric cooperative board, corn and soybean associations, and even being 4-H leaders and friends of the local FFA.

Leadership Through Relationships
Part of what makes so many farmers such outstanding leaders is the relationships they build and the way they relate to others. Their honest point of view can bring a great sense of humor to the things they do and the people they interact with in their communities. You've probably seen it, but one of my favorite entries in a parade was a farmer who brought a tractor and manure spreader. The spreader was adorned with a sign that read, "Politician's Speaking Forum."

I saw another who was on a tractor ride through northwest Iowa. He had a pig mover attached to his tractor, and fastened to it was a sign that announced the cost of riding in the pig mover as opposed to walking along the route. It read, "Kids, Clowns & Gals: FREE. Seniors & Dogs: FREE. Guys: $1.00."

You gotta love farmers and their sense of humor.

Farmers are smart, too. When my husband was a high school FFA member, he once volunteered to help on sale day at the county fair. His job was to help the 4-H'ers get their calves in and out of the ring, and loaded up. It didn't take him long to figure out it was going to be a tough day, with all those kids saying tearful farewells to their calves. He knew right away why he was assigned to that task-none of the farmers on the beef committee wanted that job either. They knew.

Maybe that difficult high school ag leadership experience helped my husband become a good livestock man, and in turn, a good 4-H leader. He also understands those kids-some of which have been our own over the years.

It's All About Teamwork
And behind every guy 4-H leader is his wife trying to keep it all going. Recently our club had decided to order out for pizza, which my husband was supposed to bring with him to the next meeting. I ordered the 10 pizzas and the plan was set. I had other obligations that night and could neither go to the meeting nor be around to remind my husband of the time. (Ladies of the farm, I KNOW you understand that one.)

Turns out that it was the weekend of the time change, and my husband forgot to set his watch ahead. Though it was late, the pizza and my husband both eventually arrived.

But when it comes right down to it, farmers make great leaders. They know what it takes to finish a job-even those really big ones. They show us every day how to shoulder tremendous responsibility in the face of the unknown, and when they find something they feel is worthy of their time, they're committed to it. They've invested plenty of their own sweat equity into the community, they care, and they'll be around.

Even if supper isn't until 10 p.m.


Karen Schwaller,

Karen lives on a grain and livestock farm in Milford, IA. She has been writing for newspapers for 30 years, 18 of which she's spent writing about life on the farm with humor and inspiration. While Karen is extremely passionate about writing, she also likes playing guitar, photography and being with her family. She will be sharing posts on what she means by "farms and families go together." Karen's perspective on farming will reflect on all that happens on the farm through good times and bad. She strives to deliver hope during difficult times, some situations you might recognize in your family, as well as a few smiles and laughs along the way. 


AgStar Financial Services is a cooperative, owned by our client-stockholders. As part of the Farm Credit System, we provide a broad range of financial services and business tools for agricultural and rural clients in Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, focusing on simple, practical solutions that meet our clients' needs. In addition to partnering with our clients, we serve as advocates, experts and advisors, helping farmers tap into the trends that matter and make the most of their farming operations.

related topics: farming, agriculture, leadership

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Emily Grace - Monday, July 7, 2014 at 9:50:19 AM
This is a great post, Karen. I enjoyed reading it this morning and appreciate the Monday morning encouragement I've gained from it for my week. Farmers truly are amazing leaders. Their capacity and humor are remarkable.

Emily Grace

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