It’s a great idea for a winter day. Make a list of at least five and as many as 10 farms that you know reasonably well and that you think have charted a good course, and ask yourself (a) what are the core ideas that they had, and (b), where did those ideas come from.
I know I’m always saying that the 2010s have seen immense professionalization on the farm. This is going to continue. Farmers’ management capability is going to continue to rise as farmers adopt more and more sophisticated management strategies.
I can’t tell you how many farm conversations I listen to that I could never have heard a decade ago, all having to do with corporate structure or financial analysis tools or HR strategies.
This professionalization makes today’s farmers much more able to execute on their ideas, which is part of the reason why I think that in 2029 we’ll be looking back at the coming 10 years and admiring how many farms have been transformed because they’ve committed themselves to brilliant new ideas.
I also think it’s true because I don’t see the price of land coming down. Feel free to disagree if you wish. And I don’t see our climate settling down. Again, disagree if you wish.
Both factors put more pressure on farms to intensify and diversify within their current limits, rather than stay committed to the strategy of endless expansion.
It’s also true because business-smart, professional farmers are increasingly quick to spot opportunities. Before associate editor Lorraine Stevenson interviewed Brett Sheffield, he and I chatted, and we see the world much the same. Farmers own most of the business smarts in most of Canada, we agreed. And they also own the resources to put the wheels under their ideas.
It’s important that Brett credits ag college for his non-farm business career. As he tells it, he was using his school training to assess his return on investment in his farm machinery when he began to wonder how that rate of return compares to other business ventures in the area.
In fact, it’s a lesson in my eyes that Brett ended up doing all the things that an MBA would teach him to do. He travelled, he got an education, he did his research, he sought the best mentors.
Is his tile drainage business a great idea? In some ways, maybe it isn’t. It’s hardly like his drainage company is the first in the country. But aspects are new and powerful. And the crucial point is, he has been able to make it a great idea for his farm.
I go back to what I said at the top. The key thing is to decide and to focus. No idea can be great without commitment and skill.
In the next few years, farmers will face huge decisions about which technologies to invest in and which markets to pursue. It’s going to be a decade for deciding.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].