Navel gazing important for surviving survivorship bias

Today’s farmers are great at surviving.

That’s obviously true because any who are still farming today have survived horrendous weather wrecks, endured appalling market slumps and held on through the endless beat-down economics of bulk commodity production.

They’ve done some things right — and maybe they’ve had some luck.

But that survival brings its own unique risk: survivorship bias.

If you base your sense of the reality of farming on your experience and those of other people still farming, you’re in dangerous territory.

If you just look at what you have done and what other surviving farmers have done to survive and prosper, you’re getting only a skewed sample and a partial picture. Are there other farmers who failed but did almost exactly what you and other survivors did?

Have you actually thought about why your farm has survived and maybe even prospered? Have you ever worked out what you did right, and where you were just lucky?

Those are pretty important questions to ponder.

I started thinking about this after hearing recently that only about 10 percent of farms have a written farm succession plan.

Wow. For a million-dollar or multimillion-dollar farm, that’s like riding nude and bareback through the woods while balancing your descendants’ financial future on your lap.

But then, how many farmers formulate a marketing plan? What percentage of the farming population does that cover? I’ll bet it’s pretty low.

What percentage of farmers have a multi-year strategic plan for their farm? From things I’ve heard recently from farmers, I’ll bet it’s miniscule as well.

Maybe today’s farmers who don’t have real marketing, succession or strategic plans and whose farms have succeeded all these decades without them just have inherent wisdom and make consistently good choices.

That’s entirely possible. Some people have good gut instincts and, as they say, “you’ve got to go with your gut.”

Or maybe many of today’s farmers are just lucky survivors, who got better weather, happened to move unpriced grain when prices happened to be popping and managed to buy land cheap when neighbours weren’t able to make a bid.

Every few years a bunch of unlucky guys gets bounced out of the industry, leaving the rest to feel lucky, or brilliant.

I wonder how many farmers have pondered which they are: wise or lucky?

Survivorship bias can blind us to our own luck and prevent an honest contemplation of why we have succeeded.

Losers and failures tend to spend a lot of time thinking about why and where everything went wrong.

For winners, it’s nice to just relax in the glow of success.

It would be a good practice for today’s farmers, who are all winners, to think like those who have failed and lost. How did I get here? What made this happen?

Like succession, marketing and strategic plans, I’ll bet only a tiny minority of farmers has ever done that.

But it’s better to do it while you’re on top. Navel gazing at the bottom is a lot less enjoyable.

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