business plans, Entrepreneurship, Facing Fears, Farm, Livestock, Risk, Women in Agriculture

Risk vs. Reward

I came across a quote this week that resonated with me:

Truth bomb.

A couple of years ago, Greg and I accidentally became sheep farmers. Yes, accidentally. (Heaven knows very few would become sheep farmers on purpose!) Our aging, bachelor neighbor was going to be spending the winter in the nursing home. He needed someone to care for his small flock of sheep while he rehabilitated. I volunteered, knowing it would be a great project for the boys and me. Well, it turns out, the shepherd enjoyed the company of his new friends in the nursing home more than the sheep at home, and he chose to live out his days there. Greg and I were now the owners of a flock of sheep.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that if we were going to care for 10 sheep, we might as well have 80. We began creating a business plan and budget for a larger sheep enterprise, which would require larger and more efficient facilities. As we sorted through numbers and projections, it was easy to see the risks involved in taking on something new. To do the project how we really wanted to do it, a loan would be required, and when there is a repayment requirement on the table, more careful consideration is required. That brings up the question: what is your comfort with risk?

I will say, Greg and I both have a high tolerance for risk… Calculated risk, that is. Luckily, as we worked through our plans, we realized there were also rewards to be attained. The rewards were not just financial but also intangible: things like creating opportunities for our children and creating our own enterprise separate from the family farm.

With any decision, there are hazards you may encounter, but there are also great peaks to reach. Each person’s tolerance for risk is different, but never overlook the rewards you may attain. After all, with the greatest risk comes the greatest rewards.

So, how are those sheep doing? This week, thanks to a great builder and concrete contractor and many long hours by Greg and me, we completed our barn and moved the flock from our elderly neighbor’s house to our farm. No longer accidental, we are fully intentional sheep farmers.

Crops, Facing Fears, Farm, Women in Agriculture

A Healthy Level of Fear

Last week, we planted our soybean test plot.

For most, this isn’t a significant achievement. For me, however, it’s a day I look forward to with equal amounts of worry and thrill. My job is always the same as we set out to accomplish this task: keep the seed from running out of the drill.

If you’re not familiar with test plots, here’s a quick primer. Farmers plant an assortment of corn or soybean varieties in succession, all in the same field. Just like a junior high science experiment, each variety gets the same care. At the end of the growing season, the varieties are harvested and the yields are calculated. A winner is declared, and many farmers will base next year’s planting decisions off of how the varieties stood up to the competition.

As we work to plant the plot, the seed drill or planter is cleaned out between each variety, and the next variety fills it up. The tractor works up and down the field until each variety is planted. In the case of our bean plot, we worked to plant 16 different varieties.

So, about my job: keeping the seed from running out. We fill the drill with a bag of seed, and as it works it way through the seed drill and into the ground, the seed continues flowing down. One side of the drill may empty quicker than the other, but the goal is to reach the end of the field with seed still available, so that particular stand of soybeans has the best potential possible for growth and yield.

Why would I be nervous? Why would I feel a little like I’m stepping I’m about to step on a rollercoaster? Well, this is where I work:


(Side note: it’s not shown in the picture, but there is a railing behind me that I can hold on, and the platform I’m standing on is similar to a box. While this isn’t recommended for daily riding on the machine; for a short period of time, we do it as safely as possible.)

Pardon the blurry image. Greg took that from inside the tractor, through the dusty window. His job is a little safer; he sits in the tractor seat, buckled in, while GPS auto steer literally drives the machine across the ground at a speed of approximately 8 mph. Meanwhile, I hang on to the drill for dear life, moving seed across the drill as parts start to empty out.

Ok, I admit, I’m being a little dramatic. The task at hand is safe for both of us. Nonetheless, the first couple of times across the field, I do have that small pit in my stomach. It’s a little nerve-wracking and a little exciting, all at the same time. Just like climbing on a rollercoaster.

I realized this year as we worked across the field that there’s such a thing as a healthy level of fear. It’s ok to be slightly scared of doing something new or different, but the trick is to face that fear head on with courage that overshadows whatever you’re scared of at the moment. Fear will always be there, and in manageable doses, it can move you forward.

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So, how did planting the plot go? Everyone survived, and we didn’t run out of seed. We’ve had a nice shower and some sunshine. Soon, we’ll be watching the seeds emerge through the soil, and that anxiety about riding on the back of the drill will be a distant memory until next year.