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Editor’s Note: Even in the East, it’s good the West won

Five years after Ottawa put the last spike in the Canadian Wheat Board, farmers are showing they’re more than sharp enough to do their own marketing

Of course the optics might have been much different. If commodity prices had sunk far below the average cost of production, the West’s cartoonists would have had a field day calling for Ottawa to throw a life ring to farmers who had lost their pool.

Even so, as Country Guide field editor Lisa Guenther reports in “After the CWB,” the real story is that the industry responded with more market advisory programs, and farmers responded by sorting the good advisory programs from the not so good, and by getting on with the business of making decisions with their usual shrewdness.

As you’ll read throughout this issue, some farmers have done better than others. Some stayed with marketing tools they already knew. Some have turned to new marketing strategies, including options and a more disciplined approach to finding the right buyer who needs their grain the most. A growing number of farmers even specialize in sales in spring and fall when most of their neighbours are in the field and too busy to fill a semi.

As we say in the article, whether you live in the East or West, this is an important story for Canadian farmers, with lots of potential for sparking new ideas.

That said, we all know that this doesn’t mean our farmers have passed some kind of test, and now need have no worries about future markets.

As margins shrink, we can expect less and less tolerance for average marketing, and zero tolerance for below-average.

I’ll say again how troubling it is that so little research gets done on marketing success. We watch every penny that goes into production costs, as we should and must, yet who among us doubts that there’s often more variation among farms in the market price they recoup than there is in costs.

We can benchmark every expense against industry averages, and against averages for specific sizes or specific types of farms, but have nothing that comes remotely close for marketing.

Some strategies seem like sure winners, like subscribing to mulitple advisory services, and like employing effective risk-management tools.

It’s encouraging too that on a growing number of multi-generational farms, an individual family member is being singled out as the person with lead responsibility for ensuring a marketing plan gets adopted and then gets acted on.

But imagine yourself sitting in a room with 100 of the farmers in your region who are determined to keep their operations going as long as the family wants to farm.

Then ask yourself: what are the top 10 doing that the other 90 aren’t?

The way farmers have responded to the CWB is proof that they are up to the challenge. More research, though, would pay for itself.

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author

Editor

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.

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