What’s a Dairy Farm Manager’s Real Job Description?

Bernie Erven

Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics

The Ohio State University

1. Introduction

  • Facing a tough question – Is there a difference between what you need to do be doing and what you like to do?
  • What is the difference between managing a dairy farm and running a dairy farm?
  • Can you ever avoid the tyranny of the urgent?
  • Are you managing or being controlled and frustrated by events and people you feel cannot be changed?
  • These questions emphasize the importance of tackling the question: What is a dairy farm manager’s real job description?


2. Functions of management

  • Planning the business
  • Organizing people, equipment and facilities.
  • Staffing to keep all positions filled with people trained to do their jobs.
  • Leading people on a day-to-day basis.
  • Monitoring performance and taking corrective action as necessary.
  • Each function is essential for success.
  • Any one of the five can cause critical problems.


3. Another approach to the real job description – a manager’s critical roles

  • Plan maker
  • Information user
  • Opportunity seeker
  • Risk taker
  • People helper
  • Organization builder
  • Enthusiastic learner

Plan Maker

  • Paraphrasing General Dwight Eisenhower - Plans don’t win battles but never go into battle without a plan.
  • Planning has great value even when it results in plans never fully implemented.
  • In the absence of planning, managers are responding to events rather than anticipating them. For example, having a plan to deal with a key employee’s leaving should he or she resign is preferable to dealing with a crisis caused by a resignation.
  • Planning includes SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Managers need to know their internal strengths and weaknesses and the external opportunities and threats to the business.
  • Writing a mission statement helps answer the question – Why are we in business?
  • Managers driven by a few carefully selected goals and strategies are more likely to succeed than those always in search of shortcuts or someone to blame for their shortcomings.
  • The continuously changing economic, technological, financial, market, legal and competitive environment requires continuous attention to planning.
  • Postponing planning is akin to the sailor leaving port with no map, no destination and no navigation instruments.


5. Information user

  • It is your job to use information from within the business and from many outside sources.
  • Better information for decision making starts at home. A computerized record keeping system that routinely provides summary information about the business is a must.
  • Do not pretend that you can make good decisions with bad information.
  • Rich sources of information: Extension, consultants, agribusinesses with whom you do business, conferences, a network of manager friends across the country, members of a business advisory committee, the Internet, the popular press, research reports, and national and international travel.


6. Opportunity seeker

  • Your job includes seeing opportunities that others miss.
  • Opportunity seekers are creative, imaginative and willing to be wrong. They are comfortable being in the minority. They seek niches to exploit. They value flexibility.
  • Change provides opportunity, so welcome it and embrace it.
  • Do not expect others to find opportunities for you. One person’s opportunity is another person’s failure.


7. Risk taker

  • Dairy farming was, is and always will be risky. No manager can know the future with certainty.
  • Reduce the uncertainty of your decisions through more and better information.
  • Accept that some things, e.g., weather and calamities, are unknowable.
  • Focus on how you take risks and how to use available risk management tools.
  • Make brave decisions based on careful analysis and available information not stupid decisions based on hunches and wild guesses about the future.


8. People helper

  • Make helping people critical to your success.
  • Help family members fit into the business when there are opportunities for them.
  • Say “No.” to family members when the business does not provide them opportunities.
  • Help your employees by believing: “Our strength is the quality of our people.” “People are our most important asset.”
  • Make certain on a day-to-day basis that employees know these statements are more than words.
  • Make a commitment to helping employees advance their careers and family lives.


9. Organization builder

  • Accept the responsibility to build an organization attuned to your business mission and goals.
  • Build pride in your farm. Help family and employees see that it is a privilege to be part of the organization.
  • Organize work, people, facilities and equipment in the operation to avoid confusion, inefficiency and frustration.
  • Use organizational principles to deal with organizational challenges common to all businesses: work specialization, chain of command, authority, responsibility, delegation, centralization versus decentralization and communication.


10. Enthusiastic learner

  • You are not ready to manage a 2005 dairy farm. You must continue to learn to be ready for 2005
  • Having an excellent 2002 business in 2005 will mean you were too busy solving current problems and did not devote enough time to getting ready for the future.
  • Learn more, understand more and apply more of what you are learning.
  • Mediocre managers often fall prey to bloated egos and know-it-all attitudes. They regularly blame others for the changes they face rather than learning how to deal with the changes.
  • Make learning fun, challenging, satisfying and confidence building.


11. Conclusion

  • Have we discussed a job description you welcome or a job you must reluctantly accept because it is being forced on you?
  • Regardless of your answer, the future of your business starts with you!


















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