As we move in to a new year and new farm season, there are all kinds of things that need to be assessed, reassessed, and evaluated. If setting business goals for the year ahead is on your to-do list, you may want to consider joining a formal peer group. If the idea of sharing farm financial details or opportunities and challenges with other farmers seems daunting, Terry Betker, president and CEO of Backswath Management, says that peer groups are an accepted part of most industries.
One thing that should be clear from the beginning is what the peer group is not. It’s not your hunting buddies, it’s not your hockey buddies, and it’s definitely not your drinking buddies. Nor is it your brother-in-law, your proctologist, or you priest, although all of these can play an important role in your life. Peer groups should be made up of people who, like you, have skin in the game. The members should be people who have dealt, or could be dealing with, the same concerns that you are dealing with.
As farms get bigger and further apart, farmers are now examining how important peer groups can be as a management tool in agriculture. Betker was at the Agriculture Excellence Conference at Winnipeg recently and spoke about why peer groups are important and how to set one up. That is where I caught up with him.
Farmers understand that they need to talk to others in the same boat as them, says Betker, but who they need to talk to may not be available at the local watering hole. “A lot of farmers have an interest in trying to better understand and bounce ideas off of what’s happening on their farm and they don’t have anybody to talk to. Those are discussions that don’t happen in the coffee shop.”
Betker explains what kinds of things can be a part of a peer group discussion. “Any issue ranging from the operational, to finance, to family, or personal matters are all topics that, once a peer group kind of crystallizes … people will come and say we’re really struggling with how we manage stress on the farm, and the other farmers around the peer group will weigh in on how they deal with it.”
Betker explains how peer groups can work: “There’s a give and take in it. To participate with a peer group you need to be prepared to come and provide information, but also to receive it. It can’t be just a one way street. you can’t just sit there and hope to get everyone else’s best practices.”
Peer groups can be very beneficial to any business enterprise. They can be particularly beneficial to a farming enterprise, but they seldom just happen spontaneously. A new day and a new year may be just the time to see if a peer group might be beneficial for you.