When Jamie McCoy, my guest from Wales, sat around our fire last summer, she glowed with passion for the family farm. A fellow Nuffield Scholar, her project was to look at opportunities for small holdings. The release of her report in 2014, the International Year of Family Farming, could not be timelier.
Of course the first question to answer is: What is the definition of family farm?
After extensive travel and research she really did not have a definition but observed that in the European Union, 89 per cent of the 16.4 million people working on a commercial farm were the owner or their family members. In Canada, 98 per cent of all farms are defined as family farms.
The United Nations chose 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming because farming — or the production of food — is critical for the evolution of mankind. The UN descriptive of the family farm or family farming is “a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labour, including both women’s and men’s.”
Clearly this would apply to most farms, including ours.
What are the opportunities on the small family farm?
First, it is fair to say that farming is changing. Robotics, prescriptive farming, drones, black box farming and many other technologies and scientific developments have changed what farmers grow and where they can grow it. Through this transformation, men and women on the farm have had to adapt to a change in their time demands for marketing, research, transportation and delivery, risk management, supply change management, branding, and the understanding of consumer trends.
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Jamie’s research found that the challenges on the farm that were approached with strong business acumen were quickly addressed. In my words, the problem becomes the solution. A simple modified formula quickly became her framework for the evaluation of family farms around the world. Jamie found that most business projects will focus on strategy, capacity and capital but when it came to talking to family farms around the world, she could not ignore communication and a continuous evaluation as cornerstone pieces for success.
Strategy x Capacity x Capital x Communication x Evaluation = Sustained Profitable Growth
What are the opportunities for small family farms?
Most farmers, through the evaluation of the past history and the future of their farm, were explicit on the opportunity that provided a major incentive for change and profitability on the farm. For some it was the access and utilization of information, improving efficiencies, lowering costs, building a brand or marketing as a group. For others, it was to solve problems collectively as a community, to be grateful every day, build something slowly from scratch, create a heritage, or build a legacy. Some said their success hinged on telling their story, regeneration, innovation, diversification or building trust. As you can see, farmers from around the world have different solutions to the success of their family farm.
If you are looking for a magic bullet for your farm, you likely won’t find it between the pages of Jamie’s report.
The solution lies with the farm family, who must build the farm and the community in which the family members live. By continually evaluating the wealth and health on and of the farm and with clear communication, all things would appear possible.
My own research into global food production identified areas that need addressing that are outside the business of actual farming. Most certainly I would argue that successful people, including farmers, come from a place of core values and beliefs.
Both Jamie and I concluded that access to credit was limiting in food production and although I talked about financing from a woman’s perspective, Jamie was clear in her recommendation to understand your borrowing capacity and that having a small holding is largely contingent in living within your means.
And while the shortage of labour is stinging farms worldwide, the solutions are not simple and lie in farmers’ approach to their profession of food production. For Jamie, the business of farming should be just that — business. The plan or road map to get there includes recognition of barriers and the embracing of opportunity and communicating the continuous evaluation of that plan.
I had the privilege of mentoring Jamie when she stayed with us in Canada and as with all my experiences in working with bright, young farmers, I was enriched. Jamie’s report Opportunities for the Small Family Farm can be read here and my report is available at brendaschoepp.com.
Celebrate your farm with its uniqueness and the wonderful people who create and maintain it — your family. Together you are the weavers of economic prosperity.