A CFO approaches size and growth of a business from more than just a capital position, Boehlje said. "The CFO also worries about his managerial skill set. For a farmer that might mean, 'Who is going to run this new dairy operation?' 'Do I have the operational managerial capacity?' So they have to continually focus on the right way to grow, as well as make sure the resource base is there to grow successfully."

Thirty years ago a chief financial officer's job was almost exclusively devoted to financial documentation. No more, Boehlje said. Today, the bookkeeping is often done by someone else, allowing the CFO to focus on understanding what the financial numbers mean and how they can be used to improve business performance. In agriculture that can translate into an added emphasis on insurance coverage, financial planning, accounting systems, cost control, profit planning and auditing, he said.

To the farmer, creating shareholder value is all about adding value to the operation. That includes the farmer's time and "intellectual capital."

"We can be profitable according to our tax return or according to our income statement, but unless we're generating enough income and revenue to reward ourselves for our contributions that we are making to the business, we may not have created value," Boehlje said. "I ought to at least mentally write myself a check for the return I expect to get on my money. I've got to get paid for my time, I've got to get paid for my intellectual and managerial capacity, and I've got to get paid for my money, as well. And it's only after I take those expenses into account have I really figured out whether I have created value."