Thursday, November 21, 2013

How Do You Let Go?

My friend Paul Butler posed a  good question on Machinery Talk.  It's been a few years since we had the mini field day on his farm and I brought my friend Chris from New Zealand to observe:

"Been farming 9 years-90% of the time by myself-started from scratch. My retired father and a couple other friends help drive trucks in fall-but that is about it. I am VERY picky about my equipment-neat freak-try to keep everything in top shape/clean/etc. Just don't have time for in-field breakdowns......and yes I am a bit of a control freak.

Farm has grown to the point now where my time/labor has become the limiting factor in future growth. I have a full time 40 hour a week job besides farming, two teenage girls, and coach track and cross country-and I don't want to miss out these last few years. I actually passed on a good opportunity this past year because it would have been too much-and I realize those don't come along every year. My goal is to get enough to farm full time and tell day job to take a hike-but I am a several years away from even considering that.

So-after talking with wife I have decided to try hiring some help on a part time basis (her suggestion). Found a guy willing to work as much as I can give him, seems competent mechanically based on conversations. If that works out would hope he could get familiar with equipment and try planting and such when I am at the office, etc.

Now that it is time to pull the trigger I am having a real hard time letting go-and giving him tasks. I feel some things-like "mow the yard and lot" and "vaccum out the trucks" and "mop the shop floor" almost seem too menial or demeaning-and I am just being lazy. And other things I need to do-change feederhouse chain and sprockets,etc.-I just can't trust anyone but myself. Visualizing ahead to spring short of working ground I just cant see myself turning the planter or sprayer or combine over to someone else.

How have others made that transition? Any tips short of just close your eyes and walk away? "

I have tried to learn to manage help as our farm transitioned over the past nine years.  I could never do every operation myself so I sought help.  That was a plus for me.


  1. Safety is the biggest concern. There are so many ways to get hurt around machinery. Check with your insurance agent to see if your liability policy is up to snuff, too.

  2. Micromanagement is a bad bad thing. He needs to build trust with his hired man or this isn't going to work.

    To build that trust they need to work on a few things together like have the hired man start to tear the combine apart and then both of them put it back together. He needs a feel for his hired man and the hired man needs to feel valued. If he doesn't value his hired man and treat him with respect the hired man will be looking somewhere else.

    My brother in law loved mowing the yard and making things look nice around the farm. Picking up the trash outta equipment and stuff sucks but it needs done too. My rule is not to ask someone to do something that I wouldn't or haven't done before. aka when we clean out bins, i told my bro in law that this sucks, but once we get this done were gonna take a break and not work our butts off afterwards.

  3. Employees are a whole extra level of stress. I'd avoid them.
    Perhaps a retired farmer now and then to run tractor is ok or if you have enough acres to have three or four employees and really manage them like a business.
    A one employee farm is hard. You start to think of your employee as a friend and he really is not. The bottom line is that when something breaks it is YOUR money and YOUR time.
    One employee can start to think it is his money and his gasoline and starts to forget that if he adds in the gas and cell phone and the discount at the autoparts store and the free beef and hay for all kid's projects, that he is getting pretty decent money for some one with no marketable skills.
    On the other hand... There is a chance that one employee will bring new energy and wonderful troubleshooting, agronomy, and mechanical skills.
    There is also a chance you will win a million dollars in the lottery... or get struck by lightning.
    There are exceptions, If you can find a good high school kid who will start out working after school and grow into your operation. If you can give him more responsibility and appreciation and keep him (or her) working for you then that is the ideal.
    IF you can find someone who is older and who loves to farm and you know who he has worked for and he didn't get fired, then that is another ideal.
    IF you find someone who can recommend a hispanic fellow who wants to work... then that is second best. Give him some responsibility and invite him to the house for lunch every once in a while and treat him with respect and he will be a good loyal worker.
    DO NOT hire twitchy white people, sad guys who are out of a job and it wasn't their fault, someone who worked in a Union Shop, people with DUII's and it wasn't their fault, a hispanic who knocks on your door, middle aged white women.
    Good luck... I'd consider downsizing!
    When I could hire a crew of high school kids for baling and irrigation I was pretty happy. Going bigger equipment and to one semi-full time employee has been very frustrating over the long run.

  4. You covered three very important aspects to this problem in your replies! You all give very detailed examples. I will send this on to Paul and see if it helps him formulate his plan and decision.

    I have tried about every thing you mention and each has its attributes and problems. It's hard to find the right match to your situation. I know he can't give up his day job but doesn't want to quite building the "night" job at his age and opportunity.



  5. You know I think your replies are more informational than my post. I was able to get you to speak out with your words of experience!

    This is excellent!

    Ed Winkle