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A Framework for Better Decisions

a road between two fields of crops

Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) and Frontier Farm Credit are co-sponsoring a webinar series, Two Economists and a Lender. This February installment, featured Agriculture Economic Insights (AEI) co-founders David Widmar and Brent Gloy and lender Maggie Holub, reviewed three simple tools to help producers think through decisions big and small.

Below are highlights from their discussion and the entire webinar.

Each year brings new uncertainties and new decisions. It’s easy to reach “analysis paralysis” and avoid making a decision. Or falling back on what was done in the past, even if it doesn’t make sense for the current environment.

Pro vs. Con

The simple act of writing down the pros and cons of a decision can help you better identify and think through the possible implications. For instance, producers will weigh the cost of a machine purchase and its effect on cash flow. They also will factor in the timeliness of field work and the possible implication for labor. But how does the purchase fit into the farm’s succession plan? A list on a white board, paper or an excel spreadsheet makes it easier to identify gaps in the decision-making process.  

“You might weight a few pros and cons if you feel they are more important than others,” Gloy advised. “That can be a good starting point to identify the key points and then move down to less important factors that really are ‘static’ or ‘noise’ “ that can get in the way of a good decision. 

Probabilistic Analysis
This method can help you think through uncertainties, such as weather or price. Suppose you are at a coffee shop and another farmer asks: Do you think corn will get to $4.25? The answer is a simple yes or no. But what if you are asked: What are the odds that December corn will hit $4.25 before April 2021? Your reasons for citing odds of 25% would be very different than an answer of 75%.

Again, it is useful to write down the reasoning behind your analysis. As time passes, you can revisit your analysis and update the odds, perhaps changing your decision regarding corn sales.

Decision Journal

Do you see a theme here? Writing down and revisiting decisions allows you to identify where you were right or wrong in your assumptions. This knowledge can inform future decisions.

“I do this for my corn and soybean marketing,” said Holub, who began managing her family’s farm when her father died. “I can look back at my plan and at notes I made on specific sales. This keeps the market in perspective at the same time it suggests whether I need to adjust my plan.”

“I can look back at my plan and at notes I made on specific sales. This keeps the market in perspective at the same time it suggests whether I need to adjust my plan.”
– Maggie Holub, relationship officer based in Norfolk, Nebraska

Gloy said different tools work best for different decisions. But all are useful for mapping out key points, collecting input from partners or other sources, being more deliberative about decision making and later reviewing the process and outcome.

“This is a perfect time to start using one or more of them,” he said.


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