Farming has become a year-round state of mind. Seasonality is not as much of a management consideration as it once was, especially for crop producers. Planting season and harvest season still exist, but due to increased demands – including the need to constantly be working on public image — the farming season has become a year-round state of mind.
That’s a new development for many farmers, according to Scott Samoleski, whose Calgary-based company StreetSmart takes the pulse of farmers across the country as part of an initiative called FarmVoice, by agri-marketing firm AdFarm.
In the fall, Samoleski and his team interviewed 43 farmers from Ontario and the Prairies, with one overarching goal: that was, to understand how farming has evolved in the past 10 years, and to find out what’s keeping them up at night.
The move towards farm management being a year-round job was one of the main findings. Marketing decisions on when to take action, such as moving a crop or buying inputs, is no longer seasonal. Everything is blending together.
How do we get everyone swimming in the same direction? Farmers are starting to appreciate the need for that.
And while those decisions may lead to greater independence, they also make farming more complex. That’s led to a rise in trust of third-party experts – accountants, agrologists, exporters and others – who can help with the right decisions. The farmers Samoleski interviewed see themselves and their operations as part of a bigger structure, as part of the value chain.
Thinking bigger could strengthen farm organizations too, says Samoleski. Farmers may see value in getting behind lobby groups, because they realize they can’t do everything themselves and they understand the need to have representatives working with decision makers on farmers’ behalves, with common messages.
“How do we get everyone swimming in the same direction?” Samoleski asks. “Farmers are starting to appreciate the need for that.”
In the course of the interviews, Samoleski heard concerns about marketing, technology adoption, environmental concerns, capitalization and succession. But time and again, public image came up.
Farmers have a lot of credibility with the public, but they need to nurture it constantly. Samoleski advises farmers to build relationships with consumers – again, a full-time part of the farming business, and one that farmers are taking to heart.
For example, earlier with week in Guelph the Grain Farmers of Ontario officially rolled out a new interactive, hi-tech traveling display called Growing Connections. The organization, which represents 28,000 Ontario corn, soybean and wheat farmers, designed the display to introduce the public in a new way to the basics of Ontario’s five-million-acre grain production sector.
They debuted it the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November, then parked it outside their directors’ meeting at the Delta Hotel for the day for a bit more media exposure, and so people who didn’t go to the Royal could take a look.
Visitors endured biting cold (for Ontario, anyway) to tour the 1,200-square-foot, 53-foot-long outdoor display, which comprises three fold-out stages and one enclosed theatre room. It sports a contemporary rather than traditional “farm” look, through the extensive use of polished aluminum and plexiglass. Yet it speaks of agriculture throughout, starting with life-size replicas of corn, soybean, and wheat fields in different stages of growth, at the display’s entrance.
Things have changed. Ten years ago the Grain Farmers of Ontario didn’t even exist. Now its one of the province’s most powerful farm lobby groups. And communications is one of its biggest jobs, regardless of the season.
In 2014, the Growing Connections display will be headed to a variety of fairs and other venues that offer farmers the potential to rub shoulders with consumers.
“We take the job of communicating with consumers seriously,” says Alma, Ontario grain farmer Henry Van Ankum, the organization’s chair. “We intend to grow our relationship with urban non-farming families. We have to connect with them. It’s up to us.”