What Picking Rocks Taught a Young Farmer About Entrepreneurship
Adam Bjerkevdt learned his most important lesson about life and farming while picking rocks.
Adam’s met his future wife, the daughter of a Minnesota farmer, at an FFA convention while they were both in high school. Adam grew up on a dairy, and after meeting his wife, spent summers helping out on his father-in-law’s 1,600 acre corn and soybean operation. Adam came back to the farm after college as a farm hand. One of his regular tasks? Picking rocks, of course.
“While out there picking rocks, I was seeing a lot of skips and doubles in the field, and it got me thinking.” That was Adam’s first breakthrough: first, you’ve got to think.
"Not only do you have to think but you have to become educated. We started going to seminars, doing research, and educating ourselves to try and correct our planting mistakes. That’s how my father-in-law and I found out about this company, Precision Planting." Then he learned the next lesson; you’ve got to take opportunities when they come. "There was no Precision Planting dealer in our area, not thinking we would become one we toured the company and we came back as a dealer."
"We really hit the ground running. We weren't sure how big this dealership would get, but we used and tested the products on our farm first and once the word got out, the farm and business prospered together. We named the dealership Precision Ag 360."
There are a lot of ups and downs for Adam in the business. Though he enjoys staying busy year round supporting precision equipment and other technologies, there are also serious challenges.
"Poor products are a struggle for any business, and it’s the toughest thing to handle on the service front. You get criticism, and that’s hard, but you have to take it and make it right. That's why we like to test everything and have real solutions to the problems fast. Good service sets us apart, we use and service what we sell."
Recent consolidations in the agribusiness industry have also posed a unique challenge to Adam’s business.
“Working with companies as a dealer is hard, because you’re kind of at their mercy. As companies and products change hands, you sometimes have moments where you say ‘I own the business, but do I still have a job?’ Consolidation in the industry brings that question to the fore, but we just have to take it and do the best we can. That’s just business. You don’t have control over your market, so you just manage risk and are careful with inventory. A bad product could easily give you a black eye with a customer or make you obsolete.”
Adam has also explained how he’s chosen the partners he has. “We’ve taken on the products that make the most sense for farmers. Plus, farmers are not wasteful people, and with tough prices the last couple of years, we’ve helped farmers out by buying used equipment, breaking it down, and building it back up with new technologies to make it a little more economical. Planning and reacting to the market is part of putting farmers first, which is important to us.”
Adam is excited about what else is coming down in the line in ag technologies. “Multi-hybrids planters are going to be a game changer. That’s the new technology we’re most excited about. Hybrid selection is now something we can manage and do, and now we can actually do that in the field. Multi-hybrids will actually make you money.”
And Adam is incredibly hopeful when he looks at other farmers around the industry. “A lot of very entrepreneurial farmers are already building businesses outside crops; be it irrigation pivots, livestock, custom services, equipment, seed, or something else. My advice would be to find something that works in your schedule on the farm and allows you to use the equipment and capital you already have (like your shop) in the off-season.”
And it’s been important for Adam to remember that he’s a farmer, not a superhero. “Make sure you can manage your work conditions. Doing things for yourself, like say, heating your shop, makes sense if it helps you be more efficient. Work efficiently, and hire someone. Hiring and training people was the hardest thing I faced, and since farmers are naturally jacks-of-all-trades, we want to do it ourselves. Don’t. You can’t do it all.”
Adam’s final piece of wisdom when he’s talking to new FFA kids, carrying on in his and his wife’s tradition?
“Just because you’re picking rocks today doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Think, educate, and take opportunities when they arise and you will be successful."