The longevity of a business is less about how well it does in the good times, and more about how it fares through the rough patches. A farm being resilient can come in many forms, but usually comes down to the strength of the management team running it and the financial nimbleness of the overall operation.
Amy Cronin is a hog farmer, Nuffield scholar and leader of an expanding farm business in Ontario, Missouri, and Iowa. Along with her husband and business partner Mike, Cronin Family Farms has a goal of striving to be the best. They may not always get there, Cronin says, but that’s the goal.
“Our vision at Cronin Family Farms is ‘Progressive. Prosperous. Best in class,” she says.
Having navigated through low hog prices, a major business expansion, a barn fire and now taking on a farm diversification project, Cronin says that communicating ahead of these challenges and decisions is key. “We needed to have a serious conversation about how we deal with problems. How we dealt with problems was the determining factor on whether we would or would not expand,” she says. “We decided to look at our problems and an opportunity. When I look back on it, that is building resiliency.”
It’s this mindset on viewing challenges differently and using them to better themselves and their business that has allowed their farm to navigate hardship. Moving on is important, says Cronin. They choose to face their problems head-on, put them to bed, and move on. And that’s part of resiliency, too — dealing with things thoroughly and right away. It’s important, she says, to deal with what keeps you up at night.
Innovation and diversification also play a key role in the numbers side of the business. But that’s not all about technology, it’s about management and people. Cronin says they’re always looking at ways to do things differently and better, and that could mean adopting a new management style or creating their own way to do something and incorporating that into the business.
Diversification is key to risk management, yes, but Cronin says they also balance business needs with human needs. Labour is a huge part of making everything work, and Cronin recognizes the need to care for themselves so they can lead a dynamic and fantastic team and take care of them, too.
Cronin uses the quote by Francis of Assisi to guide much of what they do. “We start by doing what’s necessary, then we do what’s possible, and soon we can do the impossible,” she says. That “impossible” right now is making pans for their older children coming back to the farm. What’s necessary and now possible is diversifying into the chicken business. Starting with what’s necessary and mastering that, means they can then move on to expanding what is possible for their farm.
Hear more from Amy Cronin in conversation with Bern Tobin at the Agricultural Excellence Conference: