Finding myself at a crossroads

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Phil Anderson, dairy nutritionist in Emlenton, Pa.


On-farm nutritionists vary quite a bit, and many of us are polar opposites in some ways. Some come to the nutrition-consulting field through previous reputation, some through affiliation with a company, and some simply have a pile of confidence and find a way to make it work.

Our clients and their desires are just as diverse. However, we have come to this career of helping farmers with nutrition and management; we are always looking for a way to do a little more, a little better, a little smarter.

First, I feel strongly that consultants or nutrition sales pros are wise to remember current strengths and keep them in mind. Don't abandon what has brought you success so far. Some folks do some extra work in areas of financial management, crop management, personnel, and these things can all help solidify our role on farms.

When looking to add value or service, I think we should begin with some honest self-appraisal. Look at things that are not being done for your clients, and look at your package of skills and experience. In some areas, for example, if you could provide some help with Spanish language and working with Hispanic workers, you would be received by many farms with open arms. In another part of the country, there may be several farm-supply companies already offering this service, and your entry into that market may be met with yawns.

In my own case, in 2006, I felt I was at a crossroads. I had been in the private-consulting business for 14 years and had been very successful in retaining clients. That was a good thing and helped me build my business. But it also contributed to some isolation on my part. I was not interacting with farms and industry folks as much as I had when I was newer and establishing myself. I was looking for a proactive way to challenge myself and improve my value to clients in coming years.

I had an opportunity to contract my work through a regional nutrition company and decided to make the change. The company (Renaissance Nutrition Inc. in Pennsylvania) allowed me to keep my clients where they were, expand into product sales as I saw fit, work through local mills as I had before, and do some technical-service work in some nearby areas. Working with a group was a little out of my comfort zone, but I saw the opportunity to bring more resources to the clients and to get myself closer to the forefront of the industry. The ability to do some sales and to work as a technical-resource person adds diversity to my adventures, and of course helps me share experience and ideas from other regions. The company also had a good nutrition staff already in place, which was a big part of my decision, and I have been able to bring good people to my clients' farms for another set of eyes and ears.

All companies and arrangements are different of course. Expect the warmth of your reception to depend on what you bring to the table.

Two-and-a-half years later, this move has been successful. I was able to continue doing the things I was good at, and also add some additional facets to what I bring to my clients.

For you, the next move might be completely different. The key to making such a change successful is to begin with a realistic assessment of yourself and the needs of your clients. From there, I suggest that a positive attitude is the key — so that no matter what the challenge of the day is, you will find a way to make it work.



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