Tina L. Kohlman
University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension

Kohlman, T.L.*1, , Plaster, S.2,
1 DAIRY & LIVESTOCK AGENT, University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension, Fond Du Lac, WI, 54935
2 Extension Agriculture Agent, University of Wisconsin Division of Madison, Washington/Ozaukee Counties, West Bend, WI, 53073

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.

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 develop, 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.  Consultants or service providers learned how to explore the farmers’ own reasons for change and guide the conversation to help them strengthen their personal motivation, commitment, and plan to change.

Listening and communication skills and strategies taught included:

  • Unconditional positive regard

  • Perspective

  • Empathy versus sympathy

  • Communicating with patience

  • Active listening (exploring with open-ended questions, affirming acknowledgements and successes, reflective listening, and  summarizing)

  • 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


The publication “Motivating Farmers in a Time of Change:  Building Confidence in Listening and Communication Skills” was developed by this extension educator utilizing Microsoft Office Pro Plus 365 Publisher 2019.  The four-page publication highlighted key take-home points from the presentation.

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!

  • Came prepared.  Nice activities.

  • Great content, appreciate your enthusiasm, knowledge and work.

  • Engaging speakers, moves around, eye contact, not a “Debbie Downer” mood-enjoyable.  Great job!!