When this country was founded farms and ranches were small family run enterprises where the skills of management were learned by hands-on experience. Even today a lot of skills can be acquired by performing the tasks necessary to create a finished product, but that’s not enough to be successful. Modern agribusiness requires advanced skills in employee management, computerized operations, marketing and quality control just to name a few. Most large operations require several people with diverse management skills.
Agriculture operations are some of the most challenging businesses in the world because they require so many decisions dealing with so many variables. Weather, prices, labor, distant competition and uneven demand create a portfolio of events all happening uncoordinated at the same time. It is a mind boggling mixture of chaotic events, most beyond the control of the management team. Yet from this hodgepodge of tasks the operations manager must control those situations that are within his/her grasp and find ways to mitigate those variables that are outside of their range of control.
Highest on the list for any operations manager is profit. To gain this profit requires a system of checks and balances that maintains a quality product while keeping production costs within acceptable tolerances. Agriculture products add an extra layer of concern because they are perishable and difficult to store in a quality state for very long. Thus, timing of planting, harvesting, processing, packaging and shipping all must be coordinated to allow the end consumer to enjoy a high quality product. Many products are transformed, changed our utilized as intermediate steps along the production process. Some products are used in their “fresh picked” state to be consumed by the public with little change. Other commodities such as wheat are milled, baked and transformed from their original state to be consumed.
Operations managers in any complex organization find that managing labor to be the most time consuming job. Most agriculture jobs require at least some contract or part-time labor plus a host of full-time jobs that often change during the year. Labor of any kind is expensive. If employees are not busy they cost money without creating any value. If they are not available when the labor is needed product can spoil or rot. Not every manager is good at dealing with the challenges of dealing with full and part-time labor. Care should be taken to match the manager to the job that they can be successful at.