Lessons Learned: Veteran Farmer John Menssen

We sit down for a Q&A with soldier and farmer John Menssen, who reveals how the military influenced his life on the farm.

By Tharran E. Gaines | Photos By Katie Knapp

FarmLife: Who has had the greatest influence in your life?

John Menssen: There have been so many I couldn’t list them all. They’ve included my dad, my grandpa, my father-in-law, a few people in the military and people I’ve met at AGCO. From a recreational standpoint, it would be one of my older cousins who got me into snowmobiling. Now, we go snowmobiling together three or four times a year. He also got me into dirt biking this year.

FL: What’s the best advice you’ve received?

JM: I don’t remember who said it, but don’t stop learning and look for opportunities to learn in everything you do, whether it involves farming, work relationships or your marriage. I was also told early on to ‘enjoy what I do’, so even if I have to do something that I don’t like, I try to find a way to get some enjoyment out of it.

FL: What have you learned from those who are older or younger than you?

JM: From the older standpoint, it’s been guys at work teaching me how to build relationships and how to present myself, all the way down to the speakers at a marriage conference telling us how to have a good marriage. From those younger than me, it’s primarily technologies and patience, particularly as I get older.

On my last tour in the military, I was a squad leader and everyone I had under me was in that 18- to 20–year-old group, but even the 10-year difference seemed substantial. So, part of it is learning to deal with other people.

FL: Name a mistake that taught you a lesson.

JM:   There’s too many to list … everything from breaking my ankle when I got too confident on my motorcycle to things I do while farming.

FL: How have you changed since you were younger?

JM: I’ve probably calmed down a lot. In the process, I’ve learned to think more before I talk and put more thought into situations. I’ve also learned to appreciate what I have, no matter the circumstances. Living in Iraq in 2003 with no electricity, limited water, bugs biting constantly and temperatures approaching 130 degrees helps you realize how great we have it, even on the bad days.

FL: How has your lifestyle changed?

JM: I travel a lot more than I did when I was younger; plus, I have two kids now. So, I have to balance work and family. But it’s kind of always been that way, because when I was younger, I had Army weekends, did construction work on the side and farmed, too. So, I’ve always been involved in a lot of things at once.

FL: What have you learned about predicting the future?

JM: I have to try to forecast the future with budgeting, trying to decide what inventory to suggest, etc. In an earlier job at AGCO, I had to look five to seven years out so we can build the right product. I learned that’s it’s cluing in on trends, what people are thinking, what issues need to be solved and that sort of thing. If you look at that, instead of what’s right in front of you, you can do a little better job of predicting what’s ahead.

FL: What’s something you’d like to do or learn?

JM: Besides learning how to be better at dirt biking, I want to continuously learn how to do things better. There are a lot of things I can do, but I do poorly. Accounting and bookkeeping is a good example.

FL: What advice would you offer FarmLife readers?

JM: If you’re an upcoming farmer, look at the opportunities and prepare yourself. If you wait for an opportunity to come, too often, you won’t be prepared. When we bought this farmstead, it was owned by the same people who owned the farm ground around it. However, the land came up for sale and I had the option to buy it, but I wasn’t able to do it, because I hadn’t planned ahead, talked to a financial counselor or anything. So, if anything, look ahead and be prepared. And be ready to take calculated risks.