What does it mean to farm? Why do it?
For many, it is a question of passion. Passion for the lifestyle €“ the satisfaction of working the land; the freedom to be your own boss in a world that€™s not constricted by office walls and collared shirts; the day-to-day enjoyment of hard work and fresh air.
For many, it€™s also passion for growing food: food for our families, for our fellow Canadians, for people around the world in countries we may never visit but who rely on us for dietary staples, like pulses.
All of that aside, let€™s be clear: farming is a business. And as in all businesses, the bottom line counts. In today€™s rapidly evolving industry and challenging economic climate, how are Canadian farmers making their businesses better, stronger, and more profitable?
No matter what business you€™re in, this is a tough economy. But in agriculture, it€™s also a very exciting time to be in business. There is so much innovation happening right now: bio-manufacturing, value-added crops, biofuels, and that€™s not all. Many farmers are finding new ways to brand and promote their farms, identifying new markets for their products, and capitalizing on new opportunities to connect with buyers, distributers, and consumers. For example, more and more farmers are using social media tools such as blogs and Twitter €“ and if you€™re reading this, you€™re one of them. This trend reflects the fact that social media can allow you to build your brand, share business ideas, speak out about pressing issues, and connect with consumers. In short, it can be an invaluable business tool.
With more information available to us than ever before, we also have more opportunities to learn and become better at the business of farming. Knowledge can make a farm more productive and environmentally sustainable. It can also allow farmers to bring skill and strategy to things like succession planning, financial planning, hiring talented employees, and networking, which can transform a farm€™s profitability and longevity.
The Syngenta Grower University program is an excellent example of how this works. In partnership with the prestigious Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, Syngenta hosts an annual Syngenta Grower U program, which provides intensive business education on topics such as leadership, financial organization and strategic business planning.
“I really feel that programs like this create the opportunity for farmers across the country to engage in learning with a very special group of people. It is important for farmers to challenge their business tendencies and learn from each other and the Ivey faculty.”
Dick Haney, Haney Farms, Picture Butte, Alberta
Grower U has been so successful that this year we kicked off Grower U II, a brand new course offered exclusively to Grower U alumni. The course was sold out within the first day, demonstrating a thirst for knowledge among growers and an appreciation for this kind of learning.
While it€™s immensely valuable for us in the agriculture industry to continue to educate ourselves, it is also partly our job to help educate others. Among urban populations, the old fashioned image of the farmer in overalls and a straw hat is still not completely banished. Some people think very romantically about farming €“ they see it as a noble practice, but fail to recognize that it is a business in its own right.
Hopefully, with more media attention turning to the big issues of farming, such as the challenge of feeding a growing population with less land, the public will realize that farming is more complex than driving a tractor; that it is a noble profession, yes, but that profitability is necessary in order for farms to operate.
I spoke about this issue recently at the Economic Club of Canada in downtown Toronto because I believe it is important to reach out to business audiences to help them understand not just the challenges facing Canadian agriculture, but also the opportunities. The agriculture sector has so much potential for partnership and investment from corporate Canada, and it€™s important to communicate these opportunities to audiences outside the industry.
However, while connecting with urban populations is important, we cannot lose sight of our immediate priorities. We must continue focusing our attention inwardly and make the best decisions possible to take advantage of opportunities available and position ourselves for a strong future.
I€™m sure you€™ve heard the proverb: €œGive a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.€ I would add to that: teach a man to run a successful, sustainable fishing business and you feed a whole city.
The fact is, farmers who relentlessly pursue knowledge and master the art and science of business management are those who are most likely to profit in the new economy. And better profits mean you can concentrate on what you really love about farming €“ and fuel the passion that led you to farm in the first place.