Much of the focus in our March 17, 2020 issue of Country Guide is on new technologies and new farm management strategies. After all, that’s where much of your focus is too. But maybe we’re missing something.
It’s like how farmers will often say that when they go to conferences, even though the big name presentations get all the attention, it’s actually the conversations in the hallways or over lunch that provide the value.
I first ran into this concept while chatting with a group of American bankers at a U.S. conference a few years back. Since then, though, I keep catching sight of it.
These bankers were talking about the risks in their business. After all, it’s their cash that can be on the line when farms expand, and their experience is that it’s hard to tell just from the numbers whether a particular farm will be the one that can grow and thrive, or whether it will be the other kind, where its growth will be a sort of cancer that eats away at the operation’s vital organs.
It isn’t that I’m overly sympathetic with the bankers. They’re in it for their own ends, of course, and if anyone wants to talk about expansion, should we put bank profits on the table?
Too often, too, it can seem the real problem starts with the loan targets that the lenders set for their regional offices.
It’s good, though, to talk to the bankers in those offices, especially if they have good farm connections, and if they’re the sort who keep their eyes open as they go about their business.
So, when I asked these American bankers what they do to manage their risks, they told me something I didn’t expect.
It turns out, they often see a red flag that warns them a farm may be sailing toward the rocks.
It’s this: When a farm starts ignoring the community that it’s a part of, the red light should go on.
The myriad connections that farmers have with their neighbours help keep them grounded.
It’s true of the small connections and all the little accommodations you make, and of the listening that you do as well.
It’s also true — perhaps we should say it’s increasingly true — of all the bigger connections that are coming to the fore, including those profiled in this issue, where farmers are finding more ways of working together in novel co-ops, partnerships, joint ventures.
It’s a question I’ve asked before. Do you see your neighbour as your potential competitor or your potential partner?
The coming decade will bring no end of challenges. Each farm will have to manage its own affairs with a skill and professionalism we’ve never seen before.
But equally, the opportunity to work with other farms in your region and in your sector is a vital part, not just of agriculture’s past, but its future as well.
Ignoring the co-operative spirit doesn’t make our farms more independent. It makes them more fragile.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].