Farm Management Canada recently hosted a fabulous conference in Regina where I was also contributing. The conference was peppered with interactive breakout sessions that made for lively discussion. Three of the questions stuck in my mind and I would like to share five comments on each of those questions with you. I don’t think it is my prerogative to prioritize but these are important considerations for Canadian young farmers.
What do young farmers want?
Young farmers were clear on what they want in the family business — a business plan that is transparent, open and active. Being involved in the farm can be hectic and the business plan is a road map but not engraved in granite. Being able to openly discuss business and refer to a living document was important.
We have often heard of work-life balance and this is important to the next generation of farm men and women. They know the importance of family time, exercise, prayer, and building a social community. In addition to the balance are the boundaries, and those include allowing for the partner — male or female — to make their own road map as to their level of engagement on the farm. A life partner may want to have a hands-on role in the farm or may wish to work outside of the business, and those desires must be respected.
There is an abundance of new technologies available to the young entrepreneur and it can be a full-time job just keeping up. The complexities of farming will dictate that advanced management skills are required. Young farmers want time set aside to explore new innovations and technologies so they can analyze their validity to the enterprise.
- More with Brenda Schoepp on the Alberta Farmer: Every item of the feast has a great story behind it
Finally young farmers said clearly: Please accept and understand that you are entitled to your retirement! (And yes, you will be missed.)
What do young farmers need?
This question was posed to both groups — young and experienced — and the results were interesting. A global perspective is important to appreciate the environment in which you work. Without a global outlook, it is difficult to understand why dramatic swings may occur in costs, markets, or enabling policy.
Marketing has long been a challenge on most Canadian farms — and still is. Added to that is the complexities of the labour situation and it is really important that farmers get training in human resources. I know that women farmers are short on managers while all farms struggle with finding qualified staff. There are new models to explore that are based on the ‘needs’ of the employee in synergy with the needs of the employer.
Money! Access to money is a need of young farmers as they build their equity and have extra needs for operating. This will likely always be in play, but the situation is getting better with less gender discrimination at the bank — 30 per cent of Alberta farms are owned and operated by women — and additional young farmer loans through lenders such as AFSC and FCC.
It is interesting and exciting to me that young farmers say they need to diversify their income — and experienced farmers agree. I gave the example in my presentation on keeping lines of business separate and how it can be the saving grace for young farmers. I know there are many monoculture-based farms that are highly successful, but farmers are a smart and curious bunch and see diversification not only as a way of discovery but to mitigate risk.
And finally, young farmers put a lot of pressure on themselves wanting to be really good at what they do. And that leads us to the group of farmers that offered a lengthy list of advice, much of which was mirrored in wants and needs.
What is the advice to young farmers?
This is about money — not lifestyle! Let’s not get caught up in romanticizing farming — it is tough, dirty, and a cash drain if not done properly.
On the other hand, it is a lovely way to make a living and that is what the farm should provide — an income generator adequate to meet the family needs, goals, and objectives.
It is always human nature to want to capture the whole dream during the first year out of the gate. But business takes time and energy to grow, and young farmers are advised to set goals and plans in steps that can be achievable.
All young men and women are encouraged to leave the farm and get some outside experience. As a friend of mine said, “Learn what it is like to work for other people so you know how to treat partners and employees when you come back.”
I would add that in doing so you are also building value in yourself. In other words, create your own image brand before committing to the family farm.
Managing risk is like juggling a multitude of balls in the air at once. From health insurance and hedging to fixing gates and blocking off the dugout, all risks on the farm should be evaluated.
But your greatest tool is financial literacy in mitigating risk. In all honesty, none of the wants or needs of the future farmer can or will be met without financial literacy. You simply must understand the business you are in.
Finally my young farmer friends, don’t be so hard on yourself.
We all started life with one step at a time and despite all the advancements and technologies to date — we still walk and farm this way!