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Developing the next generation of production system leaders

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Producers need to be intentional about identifying future leaders and providing different development opportunities.

Development of production system leadership has changed dramatically over the past several decades. I’m not an old man, but just one generation ago, I was routinely visiting pig farms with my dad. He is a veterinarian, and my role during these early visits was simple. I was in charge of catching all the pigs in the open lots and holding them while dad vaccinated and processed them. This introduction into the swine industry led to jobs in confinement barns as I got older, and in many ways, my practical education within the swine industry was self-taught as I worked at local farms. 

My how things have changed since those days. My brother is only 10 years younger than me, but by the time he was at the same developmental ages, the entire industry had evolved. Gone were the open opportunities to visit farms as new biosecurity procedures have dramatically improved the industry’s ability to prevent disease introduction. Consequently, this has limited the early exposure to the swine industry so many of us were accustomed to in the “good old days.” 

Change is inevitable, and while we need to look for opportunities to expose future production leaders to animal agriculture at an early age, we also need to be realistic that training and development of the next generation of leaders will need to be done in a different manner.

Animal agriculture has been historically passed down from one family member to another, and those who have the ability to train the next generation in this manner should continue to do so. The rest of us, however, must adapt and evolve. Producers need to be intentional about identifying their future leaders and providing them with different development opportunities.

Family farms need to be intentional about creating learning opportunities and allowing the younger generation to be exposed to decision making in the business. As a major stakeholder in the swine industry, we at Carthage see it as a critical part of our mission to support this process and create formal training programs to support producer efforts toward development of the next generation. 

There are many different ways in which you can develop, and while “on-the-job” training opportunities are an essential part of the learning process, formal training programs are also critical to build knowledge and confidence in the learner. We see the formal training programs to develop future production system leadership as an industry gap, one we intend to fill for our producers.

Two years ago, we embarked on the development of a training program we entitled the “Emerging Leaders Program.” We invited the next generation of leaders in our client’s operations to be a part of a peer group, meeting every few months for a combination of technical and leadership training conducted by industry experts. In addition to the formal classroom style training, we felt that routine review and updates on “hot topics” as well as the informal learning that comes from social opportunities and hallway chat would be a huge benefit to talented young leaders in our industry. As has been the case with nearly everything over the last two years, we’ve battled COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, but the feedback from our initial group of Emerging Leaders was consistent – they told us this was valuable and worth their time and effort to attend regardless of the hoops that needed to be jumped through to get together.

In addition to COVID-19 challenges, we had to overcome all the obstacles that prevent more of these formal development programs from being available. Time and money are finite resources for which there are never ending competing priorities. Fortunately, our Carthage leadership team believes in the value proposition of this training program, and we were blessed to find sponsors for each module. This allowed us the ability to deliver high class technical training through a combination of both our internal team at Carthage as well as industry experts with a wide variety of technical backgrounds. Simply put, through the generous contributions of our sponsors and Carthage leadership, we were able to put the best thinkers in our industry in front of some of its most talented young production leaders.

Just this month we wrapped up our final module with the inaugural Emerging Leaders group. It was bittersweet to see them graduate! While both trainers and participants alike were sad to finish the course, it was unbelievably satisfying to see the individual growth that occurred over the course of the last couple of years. Our last module was entitled “Working on the business versus working in the business,” and it perfectly captured all our previous lessons putting to work our key learnings on topics, such as key performance indicators, being a leader people will want to follow, managing health in an integrated production system, and using data analytics to identify business opportunities. 

To sustain our industry, we must strive to leave each of our respective businesses in the hands of capable leaders for the next generation. Devoting the time to develop new leaders is hard as there are many competing priorities and the farm always has emergencies to address. That being said, we have to recognize that the historical animal agricultural education model of family coaching passed from generation to generation won’t have the same opportunities to influence the leaders of the future in the way it did for so many of us fortunate to be raised in that environment. Know that if you don’t prioritize the development of young leaders in your business, nobody will do it for you. Seek out the few formal development programs that do exist in our industry and make sure your best and brightest are signed up for them. Sustain their development by allowing the successful graduates to enroll in new programs down the road. Leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Don’t assume that just because one of your future leaders has completed a program that the next program won’t be equally as impactful to their development. Encourage their attendance and participation knowing that if you don’t highlight this as an important value proposition to your operation, it will always be easier to prioritize urgent needs over these strategic development programs. Dr. Bob Morrison used to say, “Do work that matters.” I know he would agree that any time spent contributing to the learning and development of the next generation of swine industry leaders is time well spent.

To our inaugural Emerging Leaders class, to their respective organizations, to their families and to our program sponsors, I want to say a sincere THANK YOU from all of us at Carthage. Without your buy in, time commitment, and genuine participation, we would not have been able to do this without you. It’s been a pleasure to work with you in the Emerging Leaders Program, and we at Carthage look forward to continuing to provide this critical service to future generations of swine industry leaders.

Sources: Clayton Johnson, Carthage Veterinary Service, who are solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly own the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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