Learning from Farm Failures

Learn why pitfalls and slip-ups can be instructive teachers when you’re learning how to operate a profitable business.

| October/November 2019

Pitchfork

In the afterglow of a can-do workshop, when everyone feels comfortable enough to explore inferior decisions I’ve made, someone will ask, “What have been your biggest business failures?” Failures don’t inspire, so I tend not to dwell on them. But they sure can be instructive. Here are my biggest “failures” from a lifetime of farming.

Not collecting payment right away. My mentor Allan Nation used to say this about being in the food sales business: “It’s good because it’s a consumable, and people have to keep coming back for more. It’s bad because you can’t repossess yesterday’s meal.” Truer words were never spoken.

The No. 1 reason businesses fail has nothing to do with their products or services; it’s their cash flow. Just because a venture is profitable doesn’t mean it’ll succeed. Money coming in the front door has to be just ahead of money going out the back door.



Farm businesses do cartwheels to find customers. When a new patron oohs and aahs over our eggs or tomatoes, the endorphin high dulls our senses to the harsh reality that praise and gratitude don’t pay the bills. Those grateful customers need to pay, because all the platitudes in the world won’t make us economically viable.

Since we’re desperate for a sale, though, we don’t dog the slow pay. We want to believe the best of people. After all, they love our products. So we put off the difficult conversation. We’re struggling; they’re struggling. If we act hard-nosed, then we’re not being empathetic enough. Extending credit and letting accounts receivable build up is much easier than being perceived as mercenary and unloving. But that path can lead to financial hardship.






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