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3 Open Minutes with Andy Junkin

Progressive Dairy Editor Walt Cooley Published on 12 December 2019

Progressive Dairy contributor Andy Junkin recently released a new book to help farm families called Bulletproof Your Farm.

Andy JunkinAndy Junkin
Management Consultant
Agriculture Strategy

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Editor Walt Cooley interviewed him about why he wrote the book and how he hopes it will help farm families overcome challenges, improve their profitability, keeping their farm alive and making progress toward the farm they envision being in the future.

Please tell us why you wrote this book.

JUNKIN: On a personal level, I am swamped, and I can’t help everybody who wants help. I wrote this book so any farm family can take it home and use to implement real changes. For the last 12 years, I’ve been dealing with the most dire farm family situations across North America, where there is farm debt or farms crashing or other problems. The root issues on these farms are the same, so I wrote this book with its processes to help any family go from good to great.

In the book, you say a farm’s decision-making system will become a competitive advantage in the coming decade. Why do you believe that is?

JUNKIN: Everyone says economy scale is a factor as to whether a farm will survive or not, and there is some truth to that. However, if you give me a 40-million-dollar farm and a 5-million-dollar farm, and let’s say that on both farms everybody is butting heads and pulling the farm in different directions, but the 5-million-dollar farm can change from butting heads to being able to sit down and make the decisions, which farm is going to be gone in 10 years’ time? The farm with the economy scale might have a 5 percent cost advantage, but the farm where everybody is able to make good decisions together, they are going to have at least a 25 percent cost advantage. That’s because they are going to learn how to cut and squeeze out a couple thousand bucks in improvements every week.

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In the book you challenge readers to reconsider who they are competing against – that it is not against their neighbors. Who are they competing against?

JUNKIN: Themselves. They are competing against themselves and their paradigm that they are doing everything perfect already. My clients become realistic that there is a better way of doing things, and that they can improve, not only in their production methods but also how they work together as a family.

That paradigm switch seems like it is difficult. How do you help farm families make that transition?

JUNKIN: Well, if you don’t make the switch, you are not going to be farming in 20 years. If you don’t consistently improve, the odds are stacked against you. The reality is that there are only about 10 percent of family farms in the dairy industry that are going to be around in 20 years. The dairy business is no longer about just being better than the neighbors. You’ve got to be the best of the best of the best. And the only way to do that is by continuous self-improvement.

One of the suggestions in this book that I liked was that farm families determine ‘a precise end destination’ for their farm. Can you give some examples of what that might look like?

JUNKIN: I was on a dairy operation, and their end destination was “14 dollars.” They were getting 14 dollars per hundredweight at the time I showed up at the dairy, but their cost production was in the 17-dollar range. They painted “14 dollars” and “Happy” on their shop door. Their goal is to be able to produce milk at 14 dollars per hundredweight and for everybody to go home happy every day. Most don’t know what “14 dollars” and “Happy” means but, for the family, every time they walk past that door now it causes them to think: How can we drop our cost of production down to 14 dollars?

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Since that time, milk prices have gone back up, but milk prices will go back down to the 14-dollar range sometime for that family within a few years. It’s not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. And their goal is within two years to be able to get to that level. They are around 15 dollars now, and I have no doubt they will be able to make some massive changes to break even, even at worst-case- scenario levels.

In the client case study you just used, which one is a harder goal – ‘14 dollars’ or ‘Happy’?

JUNKIN: I think it’s “Happy.” I mean, achieving happiness is not just a matter of you going home happy. You have to consider: Your brother or your sister-in-law or your dad or your uncle, are they going home happy today? Because you might think you’re a great guy, but you may not always be a great guy to work with, and what did you do today to make your partner’s work on the farm enjoyable?

There are a lot of farm families where I walk onto the operation and nobody’s happy. Everybody’s concerned about their own happiness, but nobody is concerned about the others’ happiness. That creates a business environment which is just plain dysfunctional, and that is where farms lose money. You’ve got to shift from a “mine” mindset and from “me” to “we.” When you are concerned about the well-being of your partners as well as the business’s success, it will substantially change the mindset of the farm.

This idea of painting a farm’s ‘big, hairy, audacious goal’ on the shop door, where did you come up with that idea?

JUNKIN: I was turning around a family farm that had serious farm debt problems, and they were straying into the weeds about problems that happened in the past that really didn’t matter now.

The idea of spray painting a number physically on the side of a shop door came when family members sat down to set goals and, three weeks later, completely forgot about their goals, again straying into the weeds. By spray painting their goal on the shop door, it completely changed the family dynamics and infighting. Since then, I’ve suggested it with almost every farm family I work with. My attitude is that if you are not willing to spray paint your farm’s goal on the side of the shop door, you aren’t actually serious about it.

Across all of your books, one of the themes you write about is that reducing your cost of production is possible. But it seems it is less about the actual finances and more about how decisions are made. Is that accurate?

JUNKIN: I have done a lot of farm turn-arounds. If you show up to a farm and you look at the financials with a family, the first thing I do is get every partner on that farm willing to make a difficult change about themselves. It might be something as simple as losing 10 pounds or quitting smoking. Or it might be something more difficult, such as controlling your temper. But first off, there has got to be a demonstration by everybody involved that we can do the impossible. If you are able to change a bad habit first, being able to sit down and talk about production changes is easy.

In my experience, when I show up to the farm, everyone wants to point fingers at everybody else. Everybody says they want to change, but nobody really wants to change. The first thing we’ve got to do is get a mentality of continuous improvement that starts with “me.” And if you get that in place, you can turn around profitability of an operation within six months.

The most interesting thing I found in the book is your list of 50 farm family values. You ask readers to pick five that have lead to their success and five they want to improve as a family. How does that exercise help lead farm families to their goals?

JUNKIN: This idea came about while helping a family who was about to split apart. We then went through the list of values and found the ones that meant the most to them and their successes in the past. We converted the values into things they would actually say in the heat of the moment in the shop. For instance, the farm family value “action” was converted into “Get ’er Done” because that is something they would actually say. Now, going forward, whenever one partner says “Get ’er Done,” it’s a trigger to an agreed-upon philosophy of action, and both farm partners know that it means “Be unafraid to make the big decisions and work hard to execute ideas into reality.”

How do you envision farms using this book?

JUNKIN: I envision a farmer buying this book (or a dealership or salesperson gifting it to them) and each family member reading it and passing it from one household to the next. It takes about an hour to read. It is in very large font for those like me who refuse to get glasses.

After everyone’s read it, I’d suggest a 15-minute discussion in the shop about the farm’s goals. (They should have been thinking about this between reading the book and the actual time of the discussion.) When all the partners settle on an end goal, then they can spray paint it and get to work.

That work looks like farm families setting a time and a place to meet weekly (i.e., Mondays at 8 a.m.) to start brainstorming ideas to squeeze out more profit from their farms.  end mark

Walt Cooley
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