December 12, 2020 at 4:53 p.m.

Farm management requires teamwork, emotions

Anderson receives MMPA friend of dairy award
Tom Anderson
Tom Anderson

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    PLAINVIEW, Minn. – Tom Anderson considers the work he does as a far m business management instructor for Riverland Community College to be a team effort between him, his dairy producer clients and others in the industry who step in when needed.
    “That is the dairy industry at its best – we all work together,” Anderson said. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with them (dairy producers) in a way that is very personal and rewarding to me.”
    So when Anderson was surprised with this year’s Bruce Cottington Friend of Dairy Award from the Minnesota Milk Producers Association during a recorded video call in November, he could not help but get misty-eyed.
    “I think the emotions got the best of me because I was so surprised over receiving such an honor that I hadn’t even considered before,” Anderson said. “When you apply for recognition, you hope you get it. But in this case, someone nominated me. … I was truly touched others would have that kind of appreciation for me. The fact people respect the work we’ve done together is very touching and emotional for me.”
     Typically, the award, presented to someone who is a leader in the dairy industry and involved in their local community, is given at the Minnesota Milk annual meeting; however, because the meeting was being held virtually Dec. 2, the organization wanted Anderson to receive his recognition in a special way. Anderson was told the recorded video conference call was for educational purposes about the farm business management program. Instead, Anderson was surprised when John and Connie Meyer, who knew about the secret, presented them with award. The Meyers are Minnesota Milk members and dairy producers who work with Anderson and milk 700 cows near Rollingstone.
    Since starting in his farm business management role in December 1997, Anderson has worked with 110 farm families. The main focus has been to help dairy farmers develop records in order to make sound financial management decisions for their farms. But his work goes much deeper than numbers printed on paper. He helps families learn how to work together to make decisions and transition to the next generation.
    “That is one of my passions,” Anderson said about assisting farmers in generational transfers. “The phase of transition is not only financial, but is about responsibility and overall management, and allowing the next generation to have the time to learn those things.”
    Paperwork to pass on assets is the easy part, Anderson said.
    “Transition to me is not just ownership percentages, but transition of knowledge, responsibility, skill and relationships between all parties involved,” he said. “Transition is huge and it’s something we need to work on. It’s not only hard issues, it’s a lot of soft issues too.”
    It is also knowing and understanding the way family members want to live.
    “I’ve always said finance is cold, cruel and heartless,” Anderson said. “You look at the cold, cruel and heartless numbers first and then you step back and say, what is it that is important to me? Maybe making the last dollar wasn’t the most important thing to the family. Realizing we need to be profitable, but at the end of the day, my family is probably the most important piece of my life and that needs to be taken into consideration.”
    Since 2007, Anderson said he has had a love affair with robotic milking systems.
    “Robotics are not for everybody, but it’s a tool some can use and have used fairly well,” he said. “It is the way of the future. There are a lot of good things that come out of technology and this next generation desires to use it to their advantage and good will. It’s no different than our ancestors going from horses to cars.”
    Plus, the use of robotics has fit well together with many of his clients who are transitioning to the next generation.
    “This next generation doesn’t always want to brag that they never left the farm,” Anderson said. “They don’t want to brag that they milked cows every morning and night for the last 45 years.”
    Robots have been a way to give dairy farmers a different kind of family life.
    “I have had so many people over the years that said, ‘My dad never saw me play football or came to my basketball games because he was milking cows’ … and it’s affecting them today, 20 years later,” Anderson said. “Transition is understanding the next generation, what is important to them, and figuring out if we can blend the dairy demands with personal life and still be financially solid.”
    Anderson said his position allows him to know his clients on a personal level. It is one of the aspects of his job his enjoys the most.
    “When you develop relationships, that’s when good things happen,” Anderson said. “I’ve always been one who gets very close with the families I work with, and the trust level between themselves and myself is always of utmost importance to me. That we can share openly, that we trust each other and that it’s confidential, that we support each other.”
    His clients have become his friends. Anderson has been invited to weddings, funerals, graduation parties and other milestone celebrations.
    “It’s not only because of their business, but it’s because I truly care about who they are and what’s happening to them,” Anderson said.
    Throughout the pandemic, Anderson has been trying to keep up with his connections even more as most of his meetings have been done by virtual calls. Sometimes he will send a simple text message or email asking how the farmers are doing in these uncertain times.
    “Caring for each other, respecting each other, going out of the way every once in awhile and random acts of kindness go a long way today,” Anderson said. “That’s how we bring this country back together and that’s the dairy industry in a nutshell.”
    Maintaining the personal relationships while working on the finances and management decisions of a farm is critical in Anderson’s role.  This has made an obvious impression on others who nominated him for the friend of dairy award.
    “I’m humbled and grateful, but the credit goes to many other people and organizations that work together in this industry,” Anderson said. “That’s what makes it so unique and makes me so proud to be a part of it.”


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