In some ways, of course, farming is unique. In other ways, though, it’s got the same concerns as every other business, because like other business owners, farmers must deal with various other businesses all through the year.
What can farmers do to improve those business relationships, or at the very least to prevent hiccups in them that can create bottlenecks on the farm?
How can you make yourself more valuable to the people you do business with?
Here are four ways to do just that:
At the bank
When you’re meeting with your banker to talk financing, know your numbers. It makes your banker more efficient, and it makes you a better client, both of which increase the incentive for the bank to keep you happy.
That’s the advice from Daryl Cousin, business adviser with Connexus Credit Union in Prince Albert, Sask.
More specifically, Cousin needs to see a balance sheet when putting together a loan. Having a balance sheet consistently dated December 31 for each year “is huge for me because it helps me figure out what their farm did over the year,” he says.
Corporate farms generally have balance sheets, he says. But sole proprietors often don’t. Often these clients bring in their tax returns, prepared by accountants. They will likely have an income statement, but they often miss the balance sheet, he says.
What does a balance sheet show that the income statement might miss?
“Inventory growth,” says Cousin. For example, say the farm’s inventory grew by $250,000 on a 2,000-acre farm. If the farm uses a cash statement in the tax return, there will be $125 an acre missing on the income statement.
“It will skew their average down.”
But the balance sheet fixes that problem. “Basically it helps me create an accrual statement for them.”
“You’re not just a customer. You’re a business. And as a business, you need to be open for business,” says Vicki Dutton, grain trader with ADM at North Battleford, Sask.
Dutton sees both sides of it. Her husband is a farmer, after all. She knows that farmers face time crunches, especially around seeding and harvest.
But elevators also buy grain when it’s inconvenient for farmers. For example, “often the best time to sell green peas is right in the middle of seeding time, because for some reason that just seems to be when Asia wants them the most,” says Dutton.
Farmers also need to know what they’ve got in the bin. “You need to know the grade. You need to know it better than I know it.”
It’s also worth knowing what each elevator is looking for. Some elevators might cater to larger farms more than others, she says. But every farm has a niche, and there’s an elevator willing to spend more energy catering to that farm’s business.
For example, Dutton says at ADM they spend time “trying to develop value chains with our farmers for specialty peas and flax that’s for milling.” They also look for better markets for lentils, and better deals for distinct varieties.
Every elevator and every relationship is a little different, Dutton says. But elevators need farmers’ business, and Dutton says many are willing to support them with market knowledge, grower meetings, buses to trade shows, and free sampling.
What do elevators want in exchange for market knowledge? Dutton says they’re looking for a bit of loyalty from farmers, “or at least the opportunity to buy that product with the right price.”
The seed and chemical company
Compared to the average farm, seed and chemical companies have vast resources at their disposal. One of the ways farmers can tap into those resources is by signing up for an on-farm trial.
One benefit is that it means one more agronomist is walking your field and sharing knowledge, says Troy Prosofsky, formerly a DEKALB technical agronomist. These days he’s a Saskatchewan climate business manager for Monsanto.
“That one-on-one time you have with a grower in the field is so valuable for them. And for us as agronomists, too,” says Prosofsky.
Of course, there’s value in the actual trial, as well.
“It’s very important to see if the juice is worth the squeeze,” he says. “Am I getting value from this product, from this practice, from whatever I’m doing on the farm?”
Patience is a virtue for farmers thinking about doing agronomy trials. Prosofsky says spring seeding might not go great, leaving farmers in a time crunch to get their crops in. He looks for farmers who will take the time to deal with the trial even if they’re facing time constraints. He needs producers who realize it will only take a half hour or hour out of their day.
“They’ve committed to it and they’ll move forward,” he says.
Experience doing trials and a good track record also help, Prosofsky says.
These days, Monsanto isn’t just testing inputs or new varieties. The company has launched a data management platform, dubbed Climate FieldView. The platform will map all of the field data into an iPad app, and allow farmers to overlay satellite imagery or harvest data.
It also has some interesting applications for field trials. For example, with a fertility trial, a farmer can view a map showing different phosphorus rates, and overlay it with a yield map at the end of the year, says Prosofsky.
New technology needs to be field-tested, too. “We’re looking for somebody who’s willing to stress-test something.”
Last year they did a beta test of Climate FieldView, says Prosofsky. He says he looked for farmers interested in the data platform, and those who could see value in it. Equipment compatibility can be a factor in technology trials, though it’s less of a consideration in agronomy trials.
People typically don’t quit jobs, says Leah Knibbs. “They quit their supervisors.”
Knibbs owns a human resources consulting firm (Kn/a HR Consulting), and is a partner in a recruiting firm (Kn/a Sourcing People), in Weyburn, Sask. She started her human resources career while still on the farm, giving her a good grounding in the realities of agriculture.
Common sense goes a long way when dealing with employees. And one of the most common-sense guidelines an employer can follow is the Golden Rule.
“I always say there’s the legal, there’s the ethical, and then there’s how would you like to be treated,” says Knibbs. “If employers function at the level of how would you like to be treated, that resonates really well with employees.”
Knibbs says following the Golden Rule doesn’t mean employees get to do whatever they want, or that profitability falls to the wayside. “It’s about being clear, being fair, and dealing with people in a respectful and professional manner.”
Beyond that, farmers need to treat human resources as another skill set to learn, just as they did with finances and markets, says Knibbs. Working with a human resources professional is an option.
Knibbs also suggests looking for resources created by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council. The council runs conventions and has resources online.
Although farms don’t necessarily fall under all the employment regulations in each province, provincial governments often have helpful resources. Knibbs recommends looking into the resources offered by Occupational Health and Safety.
Also check out provincial resources, such as, in Saskatchewan, the free book called Rights and Responsibilities: A Guide to Employment Standards in Saskatchewan under the Saskatchewan Employment Act. Employers can download it from publications.gov.sk.ca.
This article originally appeared as “More important” in the January 2018 issue of Country Guide.