Investing in relationships: a conversation with JoAnne Buth

Throughout her professional life, JoAnne Buth has seen change; forged relationships; and said ‘yes’ to opportunity.

Born in Vernon, B.C. and later residing in Winnipeg, Man., Buth served as a senator for more than two years, representing Manitoba. Before becoming a senator, she spent roughly 13 years with the Canola Council of Canada, first as vice-president of crop production and biotechnology and then as president of the organization. She later became CEO for the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI). Buth retired in May.

Buth got her first real taste of agriculture when working for the city of Winnipeg’s insect control branch, after completing her biology degree at the University of Winnipeg.

“I was running the bug line, where residents would call in, and talk to me about their insect problems. From there, I became the research supervisor. One of the professors from the University of Manitoba approached me suggesting I take my master’s,” Buth explains to RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney. “I didn’t even know what a master’s degree was, actually. But I ended up doing a master’s on mosquitos.”

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To learn more about some of the contributions JoAnne Buth provided to the agricultural industry, her favourite moment of her career, her plans for retirement, and more, listen to her conversation with RealAgriculture founder, Shaun Haney.

After working at the insect control branch, Buth started work at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada station in Winnipeg as their first information officer.

“When I went to the Winnipeg Research Station, that’s when the whole world of agriculture opened up. I didn’t realize how many opportunities there were in agriculture. From that first job at the research station, I just knew I was going to stay in agriculture.”

Change

Agriculture extension — the way growers get answers to their questions — has changed drastically since Buth first began her career.

“I was at the Canola Council when we started doing a weekly update on what was happening in canola across the prairies. I remember at that point we were just starting to have farmers take pictures in their fields and send them in. And if you look at the information farmers can access now on their cellphones, it’s amazing.”

Buth says it has been especially fascinating to watch canola grow into the crop it is today, as she recalls when there were only 10 acres of canola in the world.

“It’s remarkable when you think of the size of the crop today and the increase in the crushing capacity and the exports. It’s Canadian made — and that makes it even more remarkable,” says Buth. “I remember our first target was 7 by 7, which meant 7 million tons by 2007. And look at it now! It’s amazing how much it has grown. And it’s not just, of course, the number of acres, it’s the increases in yields that are remarkable.”

People

No matter the role in agriculture, Buth believes personal relationships are what end up paying off the most.

“We had an issue with RoundUp Ready being found in canola, and that became an issue in Japan. The Japanese were very concerned about it, and because you have that personal relationship with somebody — in this case, it was the head of the crushing organization — we were able to go there immediately, let them relay their concerns, and deal with the issue. So getting to know your customers, no matter what industry you are in, is invaluable. We only ever get things done through people, and the better relationship you have with people, the better you are going to be able to deal with the bumps along the way. That’s what makes the world turn.”

Words of advice

“When you see a door open for an opportunity, say ‘yes’ more often to things,” Buth advises. “There are so many other parts of the industry — you know if you’re in one particular area, and there’s another opportunity in another area, and you have an interest in it —  go for it.”

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