Mike Brady: Don't panic in times of crisis, ask for help and avoid making hasty decisions

Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Agricultural consultant, Mike Brady.
Mike Brady

Mike Brady

Life is full of its ups and downs, and running a farm business is no different. Of course, there are the sunny days of summer "when the hay is saved, and the cows are back in calf" but then there are the times when a crisis strikes.

Farmers vary in their reaction to times of crisis, some come into their own and thrive on tackling the issues head-on, while others are fatalistic and cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Crisis management is the process by which a farmer/farm business deals with a disruptive and unexpected event that threatens to harm the business, its stakeholders, or the general public. In the corporate world the study of crisis management originated with the large-scale industrial and environmental disasters in the 1980s.

Crisis Management Plans were put in place to better manage such events.

However, the nature of crises are that they are unexpected. I have helped manage/resolve many on-farm crises in my career as a consultant and I have listed four steps to take in the event of a crisis. The purpose of this exercise is to encourage farmers to think about what they might do if one of these events arrives at their doorstep.

So when a crisis strikes, what should a farmer do?

There are four steps in a crisis management plan:

Step 1: Don't Panic

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The first advice is not to panic. Rudyard Kipling's famous poem, If, says "if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs" is a good point from where to start. Running around like a headless chicken certainly does not help matters in times of crisis. It is vitally important to take a breath and not panic.

Step 2: Assess the situation

The second step is to assess the gravity of the situation.

This is where friends, family and trusted professionals come into play.

The hardest part for many farmers is to pick up the phone and ask for help. Friends, family and, in particular, trusted professionals have experience of dealing with such situations which can be invaluable in getting an early grip on a crisis and avoid some unnecessary worry and anxiety.

There is comfort in the fact that you are not the only person in the world who has encountered that particular life-changing event and more importantly what lessons can be learned to best cope with your own personal crisis.

Step 3: Make a plan

The third step is to make a plan to resolve the crisis and commence the resolution process.

Again, this will involve friends, family and trusted professionals. More importantly, it will involve delegation of tasks and decision making which considerably lightens the burden on the farmer managing the crisis. Regular contact with those who helped create the plan reassures the farmer and keeps the resolution of the crisis on track.

Eventually, everything returns to normal and the crisis passes.

Step 4: Don't make strategic decisions at this time

The last step in the process is perhaps the most important stage of a crisis management plan. Often, in times of crisis there is a tendency to discuss and often rush into making big strategic decisions in respect of the farm business. This is not the time to make big decisions about the business.

The adrenaline and emotion surrounding the process of dealing with a major or mini crisis can blinker the thought process and result in bad decisions being made.

For example, mini crises are common in the busy calving season on dairy farms, the recent unexpected snow, labour issues or partnership disputes at this time can raise the blood temperature to boiling point and often bring the farm business into question. It is best to resolve the immediate problem at hand and defer the big picture strategic decisions until June or July when the dust has settled, and the mind is in a better place to make such important decisions.

In conclusion, the message for farmers in times of crisis is not to panic, but pick up the phone, ask from help from friends, family and trusted professionals, and do not make hasty big strategic decisions in respect of farm business at this time. Crises will come and go, in the bigger scheme of things they are just another hurdle to jump in the management of a farm business.

Remember, the crisis will pass and life will go on.

Mike Brady is Managing Director at Brady Group: Agricultural Consultants & Land Agents, email: mike@bradygroup.ie.

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