What kind of decision maker are you?

Farm Forum

There are several ways to make decisions and over my years working with farmers, I have worked with people with numerous different decision-making styles. Some people “go with their gut,” some use emotion and rush a decision just to make it and move on, others will “do it how dad (or grandpa) would have done it,” while some make choices with their biggest concern being what the neighbors will think, and still others refuse to make a decision at all if it means change. So, what kind of decision maker are you? If you are a farmer or rancher, you can probably identify yourself as one of these. If you cannot, ask your spouse!

As much as you may not want to admit it, farming and ranching is a business, a risky and volatile one at that, so you need to use all of the data and resources available to make business decisions. The best piece of advice I can give you is very simple: know your numbers and use them to make decisions for your operation. In order to do this, you need to track your numbers so you have accurate and timely data available when you need it. In our program, we work with producers to assist them in tracking their income and expense for the operation as a whole, as well as down to the individual enterprise (cow/calf, corn, etc.). By doing this, producers have exact numbers to assist them in making management decisions regarding purchases, expansion, or contraction for each separate part of their operation.

In contrast, there are a lot of producers who simply live in past. Their management style is to do things because that is the way they have always done it. Or, they will refuse to do something different because when they tried it that way in 1993, it backfired. You simply cannot think this way. You need to use history as a guide, but make sure you are using accurate data and see what worked well and what did not. You can’t dwell on past mistakes, but rather you need to learn from them and try to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Producers who work with our program get an individualized analysis of their operation. They can use this data to compare to prior years performance and track trends in their own operation. They can also use the data to compare to their peers in the South Dakota Annual Report which is a compilation of data from our producers across the state, available at When you use data like this to make your decisions, you are giving yourself the best chance for success. It can also be very rewarding when you look back at a tough decision you had to make and your decision was reinforced by the data, so reviewing past decisions is also a good exercise for analyzing your business.

A good decision for your operation may be to contact one of the instructors from the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management to help you track your numbers accurately so you can become a better decision maker. You can contact us at 605-995-7196 or