Supply shortages. Conflicting information. Ever-changing rules and regulations. Financial insecurity.
Uncertainty plagued the early days of the pandemic, but Canadian farmers just kept rolling with the punches.
“If I look back, I think the industry showed a lot of resiliency,” said Ryan Riese, national director of agriculture for RBC. “It showed that it was prepared better than most industries to respond to a pandemic that no one saw coming.
“When the world stopped, farmers didn’t.”
In some ways, it’s ironic that 2020 turned out to be a not-so-bad year for Prairie farmers after two successive years of challenging harvests, trade wars, and lower prices.
“Coming off a couple of tough years, this was much needed,” said Riese. “We saw a demand for Canadian commodities through this period of time, and I think that should give us all a lot of encouragement — that Canada has a real role to play in the global marketplace.
“We know farming and agriculture is impacted by many externalities. Farmers are used to facing a lot of factors, and this was just one additional one.”
Going forward, there are three things that producers should focus on, he said.
The first is strategic planning.
The best approach is to “hope for the best but plan for the worst by having these strategies in place.”
Business and risk management plans (along with a succession plan) allow producers to make better decisions more quickly, creating efficiencies both in the day-to-day operations and during times of crisis, said Riese.
“I hope going forward in 2021 that all of us will put our thoughts down on paper, get our plans in place, get our goals orientated, and start communicating with our partners so we’re ready for what comes at us.”
Second, farmers also need to figure out how, and how quickly, to adopt rapidly improving technology.
“Agriculture tech is a major trend that has picked up a lot of steam in recent years, and I think we’ll only see more adoption of that,” said Riese. “We’re seeing more players getting involved who are getting better at providing a crisp value proposition — having producers buy into their vision of how technology can improve the farm.”
And while it’s been challenging to find productive ways to use vast mountains of data that farms now generate, it’s something that producers will have to leverage, he added.
“We hope it will help provide the opportunity for faster and better decision-making at the end of the day. That can only be a positive in terms of efficiency.”
Ditto for automation.
“This year showed that the more control you can have over automation, the less reliant you are on having individuals come in who have to fit certain roles. I think that will be top of mind for a lot of producers to understand what they can do to take advantage of some of these technologies.”
That goes hand in hand with the growing labour gap in agriculture, the final area farmers should focus on.
“Often one of the biggest spots of concern for farmers is having reliable workers — being able to find good, strong managers and employees in their local communities,” said Riese.
“The more we can attract people into the industry, the more opportunities there are for producers across the country to have access to eager, hard-working, curious people who see real long-term career opportunities within the industry.”
The best way to get moving on these three things is to start talking about them.
“Whether that’s within your own household, with an adviser, or with someone else you work with, starting the conversation is often one of the hardest things to do,” said Riese. “But don’t be afraid to reach out to resources that can help you along this process.
“There’s certainly a lot of lessons learned through this pandemic, and hopefully we’ll be prepared for the next hurdle we have to go through.”