Motivating Farmers During a Time of Change

“Change isn’t optional.  Change comes to us, no matter how much we resist.  Sometimes we chase it. Sometimes we avoid it.  But it still comes.  That is the nature of life.”  -Lee H. Baucom

Agriculture is an industry known for hard work, resilience, strength, and supportive community.  However, farm families often experience many challenges such as low commodity prices, unpredictable weather, untimely equipment breakdowns, and a narrow window of opportunity to complete daily and seasonal work which often causes stress in the lives of farm families.

Decision making in times of change and stress can be challenging for many individuals because of emotions, uncertainty, ambivalence, loss of value or identity, and/or adaptability.  And in a time of constant change, farmers are faced with many tough decisions.  As agriculture service providers, we can provide much needed support and guidance for our farm families; however, many feel uncomfortable or lack the “soft skills” to support their farm families.  To help agribusiness professionals feel more confident in their listening and communication skills, Extension Fond du Lac County Dairy & Livestock Agent Tina Kohlman and Washington County Agriculture Educator Stephanie Plaster were invited speakers for the 2019 National Farm Business Management Conference to present and lead an interactive program on Motivating Farmers During a Time of Change. The purpose of the program was to share with the over 90 early-career and other attendees strategies and skills in helping farmers make hard decisions based on their own motivations using motivational interviewing techniques which has been used in the health field for decades.

Motivational Interviewing is a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change.  It is designed for a consultant or service provider to explore the farmers’ own reasons for change and guide the conversation to help them strengthen their personal motivation and commitment to change with a plan.  It is for the person helping the farmer to “not fix the problem” but to use listening and communication skills to help the farmer acknowledge and articulate the need and motivation for change, providing ownership of their decision.  Skills taught included:

  • Unconditional positive regard
  • Perspective
  • Empathy versus sympathy
  • Communicating with patience
  • Active listening (exploring with open-ended questions, affirming past and current acknowledgements and successes, reflective listening, and  summarize)
  • Listening and recognizing the farmers’  “sustain” and “change” talk, and responding in manner to help the farmer move from sustain to change.
  • Planning and implementation of change
  • How to seek permission and provide advice.


Based on post-meeting evaluation, respondents (n=39) indicated an average 1.4 point increase in knowledge (on a five-point scale).  Comments included:

  • Loved everything-did a great job
  • Great delivery and examples of a tough topic!
  • Knowledgeable on the topic.  Came prepared.  Nice activities.
  • You show great enthusiasm about this topic.  Your knowledge is thorough.
  • Great content, appreciate your enthusiasm, knowledge and work.
  • Added and reinforced what I’ve been told and learned.
  • Engaging speakers, moves around, eye contact, not a “Debbie Downer” mood-enjoyable.  Great job!!


The two-hour program will be provided locally in a series of meetings as well as being packaged as a teaching module for other extension educators to use the materials locally within their counties.


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