Several weeks ago on a trip back to the US from South Africa, I deliberately picked up a magazine about a topic I knew very little about. It is one of the common tricks I use to learn about different industries—and in this case, the magazine I ended up with was called Farmer’s Weekly.
The content was as you would expect, advice for farmers on techniques, information about regulations that will affect their industry and ads for tractors and things like that. In the middle of the issue I picked up was a feature article about what the author called the “Amish Paradox.”
This paradox describes the unexpected methods that the Amish use when farming, which are working so well that they are continuing to run their farms profitably without interruption, while many other farmers are struggling to make ends meet. What makes the Amish technique so special?
They rotate their crops consistently, planting different items at different parts of the year. They never use chemical fertilizers and use something called legume-based pastures to keep the fertility of their land. They tend to grow smaller fruits and veggies, which some say are tastier, too. Perhaps most importantly, they do something called “adding value” by producing additional products such as fresh cheese.
In an industry facing increasing pressure from large industry leaders to plant more genetically modified crops, and focus on volume above all else the Amish philosophy stands out. What can you learn from their lesson, even if you aren't a farmer?
1. Stick to your ideals
For the Amish, their farm culture is mixed together with their religion and belief system. Few of our small businesses take such a principled approach, but if you do—it can help serve as a guidepost for what your business will do and how it will evolve, and what you will avoid.
2. Think longer term
One of the biggest challenges in any business is to think of the long term. Crop rotation is a principle focused on making sure that land remains good for cultivating crops far into the future. Sometimes what it requires is passing up the opportunity to plant the most profitable thing every time.
3. Avoid following the “experts”
The Amish philosophy goes against many experts in the farming industry who push for higher production and instead follows their more traditional path. This tends to draw many critics and also probably causes them to have lower revenues from their crops. Yet this goes back to thinking long term—and how your priorities tend to be different if you focus on taking care of your land for future generations instead of just maximizing profit today.