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Continuously Improving Series- The Appetite for Learning

In our second five part series with Country Guide magazine, we talk about how we can all benefit from remembering to continuously improve.

Today’s farmers are confident. They are finding their voice and finally becoming viewed as the powerhouse they are. They feed us. They are the providers of what we need to sustain ourselves as a society. And today’s farmers are making their mark by raising their voices in educated ways. Educating government and all of us on the vital role they play in our daily lives and our national economy.

Having worked with farm families for close to 20 years, its been a privilege for me to see this rising confidence. There is a new appetite by today’s farmers. They are both hungry to learn and hungry to educate others. They are educating politicians, society and industry on the strength of their operations and economic contributions. Today’s farmers are building bridges between science, academia and business. While the recent Census of Agriculture still notes 44% of farms require off farm income to keep them sustainable, a growing number of our farms are large, multi-million-dollar operations and the farmers behind the running of them are confident and educated.

When I am meeting with farm families today, it is almost certain at least one of the children is off to post secondary school in Agriculture. Today’s generation is eager to learn more. They have an appetite for information, to improve their farm to provide the strongest efficiencies or unique ways of specialization. They are eager to be smarter and investing in technology at significant rates. The census showed 96% of today’s farms with sales greater than $1million are using technology. Everything from a smart phone to GPS mapping and automated animal feeds. 80% of farmers under the age of 40 apply technology to their family farm. This next generation of young farmers is ready to lead and show, with usually educated opinions, how they and technology can provide opportunities for improvement.

Some of the most successful farm operations have embraced this hunger for “disruptive farming techniques”. Just a few years ago you couldn’t imagine a tractor steering itself across a field, applying the seed, and any other application precisely based on the strength and ability of the ground it is actively seeding. Just recently, while I was meeting with a father about his family business, his son came in to interrupt and explain to his father the technology that the agronomist had given him, “an app”, said they should change the seed type for a certain area based on the recent conditions and soil analysis. This timely information wasn’t accessible just 5 years ago – and may have made the difference in a crop being harvested versus a crop lost. It also allowed the son to show his ability to contribute to the farming operation by providing a new level of knowledge to his father.

This new appetite of learning and showing technology happens all around me at family farms. I recently sat at a kitchen table and watched as a son and daughter explained to other members of the family business that recent data collected on the dairy herd showed a lack of certain nutrients in the feed. This analysis was supplied to the next generation by a piece of technology and the family agreed to make instant changes in the ration. And guess what? Their herd was back on track to maintaining its usual production. Its inspiring to see the lead decision maker openly ask them about the next steps and encouraging them to continue to implement as they had outlined. They had the confidence in the next generation and they encourage them to bring their ideas forward.

Today’s farmers are not only inviting the next generation to speak up, there is also a new appetite to have access to professional resources to ensure they are doing the right thing with their hard-earned family business. Of course, they still want to know if they can save money on tax or probate or land transfer tax. But several families are seeing past just the “technical” side of transition planning and want to ensure they have included the family on the long-term outcome for the family business.

I work with several families that have more than just one revenue generating part of the business. They would be considered a family farm enterprise. These families have a unique advantage but also require extensive advice and long-term planning services.

The most successful have long-term transgenerational views. They view their business as a way to include their entire family on decisions that impact both the business and the family. They have good governance in place to ensure it is self managed and successful. They have us facilitate family meetings. Family business meetings that provide the structure to establish and maintain governance for the long-term. They see value in having a quarterback – someone overseeing the accounting, tax and legal aspects for their family and their family business. It becomes a seamless system, with no overlap and no gaps in communication. It’s a new desire to do things differently. To look to professionals to help provide guidance and to take the advice of those who may know best.

The next generation of farmers – like a new generation of seed – has all the right factors and growing season ahead of it, if they are willing to learn and adapt. They are starving for growth and its because we have given them the room to roam, the ability to seek the unknown and prosper. They have an appetite to do more and to try and do it better. Let’s give them the opportunity to make it impactful while we are here to reap what we have sown.

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