March 24, 2023 at 8:09 p.m.

One-On-One with Nathan Converse Central Lakes College in Staples, Minnesota, Farm business management instructor

How and why did you become a farm business management instructor? I was working in extension, but I wanted to work closer to farmers and be on the farm with them and wanted to have less office time. I heard about this position that would get me on the farm one on one with the farmer. So, I applied and got the position.

What does a typical instructor-dairy farmer relationship look like? I meet with most of my farmers that are full-time students every four to six weeks. If they are a new student, we spend a great deal of time getting them set up with a record keeping system if they don’t have one already. For students who have been in the program longer, I work through cash flows, quarterly analysis and discuss options with them. Every student gets a balance sheet and most students want a cash flow budget; we do an annual analysis of their operation at the beginning of the year. For the students who have been in the program for more than 30 years, we choose to meet less frequently, like every six months, to go over their financial statements together. I work with the farmer to help them reach the goals of their operation.

What is the most important role of an FBM instructor? We are an unbiased, confidential resource for the farming operation. We don’t tell you what to do or how to do it, but our goal is to help the farmer make better informed decisions. We look at the economic impact of the farm’s decisions to your farm and your family to help make an unbiased decision. We don’t gain anything if you buy a certain product; we are simply here to help farmers make better informed decisions. We see a lot of other farms and operations and can say, “This is what I have seen work for others.”

How has dairy farming changed during your career? Dairy farms in general have gotten bigger. Technology has also had a huge impact, everything from robotic milkers to heat detection systems. The adoption of this technology has gotten more wide spread. I’ve dealt with farm transitions that want to establish a plan for the future.

How big is the territory you cover? I’m based out of Morrison County, but I have farms in Cass, Crow Wing, Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties.

What is the biggest challenge of your job? My biggest challenge now is balancing time commitments. Every farm needs the balance sheet, farm analysis and cash flow completed between January and March. It can be challenging to get all that scheduled and completed in that time frame. 15 years ago, when I was a new instructor, the biggest challenge would have been the learning curve. We have to know the various record keeping systems, trending topics in the industry, new systems and common benchmarks in the industry for each of the industries we work with.

What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy working with the people, and I like working with numbers and data. I like putting numbers in front of people to help them make better informed decisions.  

What is one tip you have for dairy farmers about record keeping? My biggest tip is keeping up with your record keeping. It makes it so much easier to stay up to date with your record system and do it consistently rather than pulling the box of receipts out once a year and trying to go through them all at once.

What is the biggest misconception about your job? There is some misconception about what we do, but the biggest misconception is that people think they need to come to our colleges to take classes. My students never set foot on the college campus unless they want to come to a meeting or forum we are hosting. FBM instructors come out to the students on their farm. It is the best way to truly understand each operation.  

What percentage of your students are dairy farmers? I would say about 85%.

What does a typical day look like for you? My first meeting with a student is between 8:30-9 a.m., then I schedule another one for the afternoon. Typically, my meetings last 2-3.5 hours. Some days, especially during analysis season in January and February, I might schedule three meetings in a day. So, quite often I leave home before 8 a.m. and don’t get home until 8 p.m. I spend a lot of time on the road driving from farm to farm. I try to schedule farms that are closer together in the same day, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

What kind of training or on-the-job learning do you do to keep up with information in sectors of agriculture? Within the FBM instructor organization, we have peer groups that get together a couple times a year. We discuss current events and industry trends for the different sectors. We have a group for hogs, dairy, beef, etc. Minnesota Association of Agricultural Educators also puts on a few workshops each year as professional development. I try to attend agricultural events and webinars to learn about what’s going on in the industry as well.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I farm in my spare time with my dad. I have 80 acres and raise 30 beef cows and 75 ewes. Most of my land is used as pasture, and we put up hay each summer for the sheep and beef cattle. We have taken a few family vacations, and I like to go hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Tell us about yourself and your family. My wife, Jody, is a teacher at Brainerd High School. My oldest son, Colton, just graduated high school last year, and Dustin is in high school and is active with sports and other extracurricular activities. Both kids are very active in 4-H and FFA.


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