Farmers make decisions every day, of course, but with time it often seems that every year has its one big decision that really influences the next five years for that farm, and sometimes much more.
If that’s true, what will shake out as your biggest decision this year?
Or maybe you will look back and say that the biggest decision is the one that you didn’t make. If we’re honest, none of us are beyond that kind of surprise.
I raise this now because it seems to me harder and harder to deny that agriculture is in charge of its own destiny, or, at the very least, that the changes that are bubbling up within our farms are playing a much larger part in defining the future of agriculture than any external pressures.
This may not be the case forever, of course. We may get rude shocks on NAFTA, on ethanol policy, on food safety issues… and who knows what else.
But we are in a long-term trend with farms that, on the one hand, have the resources to weather their share of hard times, but that, on the other, can’t see how to justify the cost of expansion, if land-based expansion is even possible in their area.
It seems like a recipe for stability, with strong farms that have a cap on their ability to change.
But when did you ever know stability to be, well, stable?
Our agriculture is evolving, even if it isn’t always apparent in land transactions. Numbers from the USDA, for instance, paint a clear picture. We’ve always said that 20 per cent of farmers produce 80 per cent of gross sales, but south of the border now, it’s just 7.5 per cent of farmers who produce that 80 per cent, and it’s expected to be just five per cent by 2025.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying every farm has to aim to be huge. I don’t believe that at all, and I think the pages of this and every other issue of Guide will prove it.
But I do think that co-existing with these farms will demand sophisticated business skills.
Farmers spend their winters gearing up so they can operate at maximum efficiency in the field as soon as spring arrives.
More and more, it makes equal sense to use part of your summer to set yourself up to be maximally efficient on your business projects this fall.
For example, if you’re wondering if it would be a good idea to make some progress on succession planning this winter, why not make initial contacts with your accountant and other advisers this summer, and maybe even plant the seed with the family so they’re ready to participate?
Or if you’re thinking of joining the growing list of farmers who believe in the power of continuing education to enhance your business skills, why not spend some time this summer taking a more scientific look at which skills upgrades will give you the most benefit.
You’ll find such suggestions all through this issue. But also don’t forget to let me know. Are we getting it right? I’m at [email protected].