Tim Manchester first grew popcorn in 1995 after being introduced to it by another attendee at The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers, a weeklong farm financial-management course better known as TEPAP.
"A lot of people don't want to mess with it, because you have to clean a lot of bins and wagons," he said. That didn't bother him; the higher price was worth the work.
While his farm's popcorn acres have fluctuated during the years, the lessons learned at TEPAP made such an impression that he didn't just encourage his son-in-law to attend, he wrote it into their transition plan.
His son-in-law, Caleb Wilson, earned one of the two scholarships DTN/Progressive Farmer sponsors each year to attend.
"It was hard to find time to pull away," Caleb said, adding that it's already made a difference in how he thinks about his farm's finances and management. (See story "Career Change" at https://www.dtnpf.com/…)
Mark Welch, an ag economist at Texas A&M University and TEPAP director, said the program grew out of the farm financial crisis of the 1980s, when many farmers quickly learned they knew how to grow a crop but struggled managing the financial aspects.
"In some respects, the challenges we face today are exactly they've been for 30 years: It's recognizing that many of us don't have the training or experience or resources around the challenging issues that we face today," he said.
"I think the difference today is that farming operations have become so complex and so diversified that the degree of impact, or repercussions, of a decision can be so serious. It just heightens the degree of proficiency and professionalism we need around making decisions."
The course focuses on financial management, marketing, human resources, succession planning and leadership development to help producers start thinking more like a CEO.
"These are skills that I think will be critical to survive and to thrive in the ag economy of the future, but they are skill sets that most of us don't have just a natural connection to. Most farmers didn't go to business school."
While coursework is an important part of the weeklong program, many participants learn as much or more from spending a week with peers, sharing ideas and discussing common challenges.
"One of the most common comments we get is, 'Gosh, I wish I had done this 10 years ago,'" Welch said. It's why Manchester and Wilson are just one of numerous examples of farms that have made TEPAP a part of their management training, whether it's sending the next generation or key employees.
"There's an old Chinese proverb: 'The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.'"
TEPAP will be held in Austin, Texas, Jan. 5-11, 2020. Visit tepap.tamu.edu for more information.
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @KatieD_DTN
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