family succession

Critical State – Lack of a Succession Plan

I have been incredibly impressed with the service and quality of work at Queen City Glass. I stumbled onto them a number of years ago when I got a stone chip on my truck’s windshield right at the the beginning of a November cold snap. I knew that tiny chip would spider-web in a big way the first time I cranked on the windshield defroster. Going to the glass shop I had frequented up to that point and being told to come back in 3 days or so, I was about to accept the fate of my front glass when I drove by Queen City Glass. With nothing to lose, I whipped in to see if they could help me out.

They took me right in without an appointment and did a great job of repairing my windshield. I didn’t have glass coverage at that time so the fee would be coming out of my wallet. Not knowing what to expect, having never paid for a windshield repair before, I was happy with what they took from me.

While I was waiting for the work to be done, I learned that they do all kinds of glass, almost anything that one might custom order. The guys in the back were sharing stories of building display cases for jewelry stores and fighting with 10′ high panes for shopping mall store fronts. They admitted to doing a lot of work for antique cars, as well as farm equipment.

Coming back from a recent client meeting, my windshield got hit by a rock which left a chip. Almost as big as a quarter right away, I knew I had to get the damage repaired soon or it would be too big to fix. I pulled over on the highway at about 2:20 pm and called Queen City Glass. They told me if I could get there by 3, they’d have me done in time to get to my 4pm obligation. One of the owners was doing the work on my truck. After he shared with me the story of the company’s ownership,how his father acquired the business in the 1960s and has since passed it down to him and his sister, I asked him what was his succession plan. He replied, “Freedom 85, man!” I clarified that I didn’t mean his retirement plan, but the plan for the future of the business when he and his sister no longer want to work it (sometime after he turns 85 as per his declaration.) He admitted that there is no interest from the 3rd generation to own and operate the business and that if it couldn’t be sold, it would probably close.

As I stood in that shop and considered all the amazing glass work that would have been done there over the years, including a turn-of-the-20th-century hand carved piece of furniture in which they were installing a custom mirrored back that very day, I realized what a shame it would be to not have this business carry on what is most likely a storied legacy. As the late great George Jones once sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

Direct Questions

Family business is the backbone of Canada’s economy, and farms are often the most enduring of all family businesses. What is your plan to ensure the progression of your farm carries on?

With family or without, you have opportunity to transition your business without selling everything. What options do you have beyond immediate family?

Whose gonna fill YOUR shoes?

From The Home Quarter

Queen City Glass will be at the point of critical state when one or both of its current owners decide they’ve had enough work, and want to retire. I would argue they are at the point of critical state right now, if not very close to it. With no succeeding generation currently involved in the business, should either of the 2 owners become disabled or killed, the business would likely face an immediate upheaval and could be forced into a final closure. Any family business in any industry without a succession plan faces a similar potential fate; none are immune. If you are the beneficiary of a proud family legacy, what are you doing to ensure that legacy continues?




Critical State – Disability or Loss of Life

Frequently over the next several weeks, we will delve further into the many factors that can lead your business to a “Critical State.” To refresh your memory, one reaches critical state when at the point of significant change. The significant change can lead to a state that will have a profound effect on you, your family, or your business. Thus the term “critical.”

Disability or Loss of Life: whether it be one of the major stakeholders in your business, a member of your family, or one of your employees, this is often the most catastrophic change.

Although disability is not guaranteed to happen, the end of one’s life is certain. Arguments have been made as to which is more difficult to manage through. I have experienced both in my family.

What is your strategy, your back-up plan, if someone in your family or your business suddenly became disabled or was killed? How would you continue? Who else knows what that person knows so that the only hardship you must deal with is the emotional one?

  1. Financial: if control rests with only one person, everything financial is instantly in limbo if that person passed away. Secondary signors can be established. Power of attorney should be in place (applies during disability.) Something as simple as writing down account numbers and passwords in a notebook stored in a locked safe can be incredibly beneficial to those who are left behind, struggling to carry on while dealing with their grief.
  2. Operational: “Were those peas on the west half sprayed? When? With what?” A crop could be lost, and subsequently a farm could be lost, if important operational information is not recorded and readily available if/when the person with that knowledge in his/her head is hurt or worse. The importance of managing your business information has been raised here on many occasions.
    What about grain deliveries? Who authorized those holidays for the staff? Etc…
  3. Personal: too often, major crises such as death or disability can lead to a personal “critical state.” Relationships break down under the stress, families fighting on the way to the funeral home, etc. Conversations with family, a current and well prepared will, and preparations for crisis are all required to bring everything back down from “critical state.”

Direct Questions

Do you have a will, and is it current?

Health care directives (also known as living wills), financial power of attorney, and final wishes should all be laid out so that the decisions are not left to those left behind. These are your decisions and the appropriate legal documents allow you to have some control while you’re not able to take control. Have you put these in place, and if not, why not?


Early on in most new business engagements, I ask about wills, powers of attorney, life and disability insurances, etc. The answers are as varied as the people I work with. Most have these fundamental pieces in place, and many more have already begun some very intriguing and creative ways to facilitate business succession. From Joint Ventures, to funded buy-sell agreements, to estate freezes, and share purchase plans, there is no right or wrong way to plan, only a series of possibilities that can be “more right” than some others.

I celebrate the plans that are already enacted, and push hard on those who have none.

From the Home Quarter

Not taking action to plan for the inevitable does not delay the inevitable, it only creates extra hardship for those left behind.


inadequate working capital

Eat to Live, or Live to Eat

This week’s title is common phrasing when dealing with people who struggle with weight loss. While there are many factors that come into play for those who struggle with weight, a person’s caloric intake is often a major contributor. Making smart decisions about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat can be challenging for many people who are trying to do a better job of managing their health, not just those with weight issues. The question of “why” they eat gets into the psychology of the issue, which, coincidentally, leads into the real topic behind this week’s commentary.

Spending time at Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina each June has been something I’ve looked forward to for as long as I can recall. Remember, I knew I wanted to farm since I was less than 10 years old, so the Farm Progress Show was a more tantalizing buffet to the teenage me than even an actual buffet! (BTW, I still have an appetite like an 18 year old farm boy.)

The desire for more and new farm equipment seems almost insatiable, and begs the question:

Do we have all this equipment so we can farm, or do we farm so we can have all this equipment?

  • I recently met a young farmer who, while struggling to establish adequate cash flow, explained why another 4WD tractor on his 2,000ac farm will make him more efficient (he’s a sole operator with no hired help…how one man can drive more than one tractor at one time is something I can’t quite wrap my ahead around.)
  • You may recall from a few months ago the fictional story about “Fred” and how he NEEDED another combine. Despite his banker’s advice, he forged ahead.
  • Conversely, another farmer I speak with frequently is feverishly trying to rid himself of the over-abundance of iron on his farm.
  • Another is protecting his farm’s financial position by keeping the absolute bare minimum amount of equipment on his farm. Nowhere is there a “nice to have” piece of equipment on that farm; everything is “fully utilized.”

During the week of the June show in Regina, I read a tweet from an urban, non-farming young lady who was seeing the Farm Progress Show for the first time; it said (something along the lines of) “all this big beautiful equipment makes me want to go farming!”

Direct Questions

What circumstances must be present for you to consider additional equipment?

Does any equipment deal have to make for a sound business decision, or simply fill a desire?

Is your equipment a tool to operate your farm, or is it the reason you farm?

From the Home Quarter

In these weekly editorials, you have read about Mindset, about Strategy, and about Focus; these topics (and many of the others) challenge the conventional thinking in the industry today.

Those who bow to the mistress that is their farm equipment are only enjoying short term excitement. The mistress entices her suitor, subservient to the raucous cycle, and she soon becomes the one in charge.

Just ask anyone trying to get out of multiple leases…

toe the line of critical state

Critical State

Critical State…it’s a subjective term, but is often defined in science literature as “the point at which something triggers a change in the basic nature or character of the object or group.” To paraphrase: something can be referred to as being in a critical state when at the point of significant change.

How many triggers of change do you, your family, and your business face each day, each month, and each year that could cause significant change? How many ways are you riding on or near the line of a “critical state?”

While there is little doubt that the list could be far longer, here are ten of the most important circumstances (many of which are ignored) that could put you at, or beyond, a critical state:

  1. Disability or Loss of Life: whether it be one of the major stakeholders in your business, a member of your family, or one of your employees, this is often the most catastrophic change.
  2. Lack of a Succession Plan: see point #1 above.
  3. Inability to Communicate: with family, partners, employees, vendors, etc.
    Does any more need to be said on this one?
  4. Debts Get Called: sometimes lenders make adjustments to their portfolio to manage their risk. If your debts get called, how do things change for your business?
  5. Overspending: cash in the bank is a good thing. Spending it because it is there is the scourge to many farms’ financial strength. Do you believe cash is king?
  6. Crop Failure: do you have the financial strength to survive a crop failure?
  7. Timing: trying to time the commodity markets is almost like trying to pick winning lottery numbers; both are nearly impossible. Regarding major purchases, there clearly is a right time and a wrong time to be taking on more debt, investing in more or upgraded assets, expanding, etc.
  8. Inaction: not monitoring bins, too cold to haul grain, we’re at the lake (can’t scout for bugs/disease,) etc. Poor excuses that can quickly create a critical state.
  9. Maintaining Inadequate Working Capital: believe it or not, but the chronic dependence on operating credit from lenders and vendors leaves a farm at the precipice of a critical state. Operating credit should not be counted on year over year. What if it isn’t there when you needed it most?
  10. Unwilling to change and adapt: “We’ve always done it this way,” are the 6 most deadly words in business.

Direct Questions

How many of the 10 points above might apply to your farm?

How would you gauge your ability to critically analyze your own business relative to the 10 points above?

What is your strategy to remain “well back” of the line that crosses over into critical state?

From the Home Quarter

In the battle against weather, insects, disease, market prices, etc, it is easy to get caught in a routine. When we succeed at managing through the day to day, the “extra” stuff, the “other” issues seem like they can wait. “It’ll never happen to me” are some of the most famous last words.

Too often, we operate at the very brink of critical state. Too often, we get away with it, which allows to be become “something we’ve always done.” So I’m left to ask,”Isn’t it better to avoid a crisis than deal with one?”


cash is not king

Cash Isn’t King

I think this phrase has gained such popularity because of alliteration. The hard “c” in cash just rolls with the word “king.”

Let me emphatically disagree with the ideology that cash is king.

One could argue that the king rules all, answers to no one, and has absolute power. While I’m sure that is what the king would have everyone believe, the truth is that kings have always been influenced by the likes of his queen, his advisors, other diplomats, etc. Is he, then, truly the top, unflappable, incontestable?

Since we live in a democracy and are no longer ruled by a king or queen, when I hear such terms I think of cards. The card games I enjoy the most are 3-Spot (also known as Kaiser) and Poker. In both games, the king is soundly trounced by one card that is even greater.

Yes, I’m saying it.

Cash is not King.

It’s the ACE!

If cash is king, then that means that something else is the Ace, something else is more important than cash. This is simply not so.

Cash is the ace, the pinnacle, the life blood of your farm.

Imagine how the decisions would be different, the decisions that are made every day and every year on your farm, imagine how they would be different if you had an abundance of cash:

  • Instead of gambling on trying to time the commodity market high, you could sell your production whenever was most convenient and/or at an appropriate profit point.
  • You would cease the need for operating credit, vendor credit, or cash advances.
  • “Cash management” would no longer be juggling between various creditors and hoping you can deliver grain in time to make payments, but instead it would be paying bills on time (ahead of time?) and selling grain when it made the most sense.
  • Risk management programs would be a non-issue.
  • Equity loans to recapitalize the business would be a completely foreign concept.
  • Acquisition decisions (land, buildings, equipment) would be easier, faster, and more empowering.
    (That is capitalized for a reason.)

Cash is the Ace. It ranks above precision planting, Group 2 resistance, or the latest technology trends. The Ace outranks the King; it outranks all the other cards.

Direct Questions

Has cash always been your Ace, or have other things become more important?

What are the top three benefits to you and your business if cash was abundant?

How confident would you be to have TWO Aces in your hand?

From the Home Quarter

We often regard agriculture as doing amazing things with scare resources. Cash does not have to be one of those scarce resources even though that has been the mantra for generations (a.k.a Asset Rich – Cash Poor). Assets do not pay bills, cash does. The desire to convert cash into assets needs to be squelched at a time when debts are high, cash flow is tight, and profit margins are narrow.

Since cash is the life blood of your business, and a critical contributor to your financial health, when is the last time you had a checkup?

With your year-end financial statements now done, you’re ready for a checkup. Email your financial statements to me and I’ll provide you with a financial health report card. Normally a $500 value, this service is free if booked by June 13, 2016.




Here is a throwback to an article I wrote in August 2015 titled Is Data Management Really Important? where I highlighted a conversation between a friend and I that included his opinion that even large corporations let their “focus (be) primarily growth & profits and how to accomplish it, with information management being thrown together afterwards.”

While I believe that statement to still be true both for large corporations and farms alike, there is something in that statement that opens up what seems to have become the dichotomy of prairie grain farming: growth or status quo.

Let’s not get hung up on “growth’ as a single definition. In March 2015, my article Always Growing…Growing All Ways clearly described a few of the many ways we can achieve growth in our businesses that does not have to be pigeon-holed into the category of “expansion.”

So let’s clarify the dichotomy as “expansion or status quo.”

Now let’s compare a couple different scenarios.

  1. In the spring of 2016, I met with a young farmer who started out in 2000 with nothing but an ag degree and desire. As he prepared to sow his seventeenth crop this spring, he showed me his numbers while admitting that he felt good about his financial position, but didn’t really know if he was good or not. He lost almost 20% of his acres from the previous year, and was happy about it because the cost to farm that land was too high and he knew it.
    When I told him that I’d peg his operation in the top 10%, maybe even the top 5% of all grain farms on the prairies, he paused and said,”OK, so what are the top 5% doing that I’m not?”
  2. There is a farmer who has been calling me off and on for a couple years now. By all accounts, it is quite a feat that he is still operating. Although he’s been farming for well over 20 years his debts are maxed out, leases are burning up cash flow faster than the Fort McMurray wildfire is burning up bush land. He spends more time running equipment that his hired men; he has no clue what his costs are; he has aggressively built his way up to 10,000ac and wants to get to 20,000ac; one of his advisors told me that his management capability was maxed out at 4,000ac.

The first scenario has the farmer focused on growth of profitability, control, and efficiency.

The second scenario has the farmer focused on growth of the number of acres on which he produces.

One would be the envy of 95% of farmers.

The other will never in his entire career get to the point of financial success that the first farmer has already achieved.

Direct Questions

Which are you more like, the first farmer above, or the second farmer?

Which farmer do you want to be like?

What are you prepared to do to get there?

From the Home Quarter

What has been described above is actually a false dichotomy. We’ve been led to believe that farms must get larger in order to survive and that small farms were doomed. What that message failed to deliver was “At what point is a farm large enough?” I am not decrying large farms or the continued expansion of farms…as long as it makes financial sense! The false dichotomy of expansion or status quo need not be black or white, left or right, mutually exclusive. Farms that are not expanding today could be expanding next year, just like farms that are expanding today may not be next year. Some farms that have expanded over the last few years might even be looking at reducing acres in the future.

Growth (expansion) at all costs can often come with the heaviest of all costs.

trickledown effect of too much debt

The Trickle-Down Effect of Too Much Debt

One would think we learned something from watching the US housing market collapse at the end of the previous decade. Yet, here we are, seven or so years later and many are making the same mistakes that were made by countless US homeowners.

Granted, the macro factors that helped to create the US housing crisis are not prevalent here in Canada. My favorite term from the US crisis was “NINJA” Mortgage: No Income? No Job? …APPROVED! Lending criteria in Canada isn’t quite that liberal.

What exacerbated the problem in the US was how homeowners were using their homes as a personal ABM, taking cash out whenever they wanted for whatever they wanted from the rapidly growing equity they had in their homes because the house values just kept increasing. They leveraged the “found” equity they had in their homes to feed their consumer appetite.

Here in Canada, and specifically farms on the Canadian Prairies, we’ve seen something similar. Rapidly appreciating farm land is being used to secure more borrowing, and often to secure the consolidation of other loans. The renaissance of farmland value appreciation, especially in Saskatchewan, added a dangerous amount of fuel to a fire of pent up demand. Land “equity” was used for the feverish acquisition of equipment, buildings, and more land.

In the US, while sub-prime mortgages kept payments low, everyone was happy to be ticking along with borrowing and spending to their heart’s content…until the sub-prime period ended and the piper needed to be paid. With a property fully leveraged and no ability to repay the debt, many homeowners resigned themselves to foreclosure. Those who may have had an ability to pay the debt saw the value of their fully leveraged property start to decline because of all the other foreclosures, so when they found themselves underwater, they too went the route of foreclosure.

No one is arguing that things are different here. True. Borrowing criteria is more stringent in Canada. What is similar, however, is the experience of a rapid appreciation in the value of real estate and the leverage of said appreciation to support more (other) debt.

I was talking with a 17,000ac farmer recently who was very aggressive in expansion over the last several years. He has increased the size and scale of his farm in every way: land, equipment, labor, and debt. He made no bones about continuing to leverage all assets, including the appreciating land and his depreciating equipment, to the fullest extent in an effort to facilitate further expansion. The scourge of his actions over these last few years was the incredible drain on his cash flow to service all this debt. This came to light for him when recently he needed land equity to source an operating line of credit so that he could meet his debt payments.

Direct Questions

Have most of the increases to equity on your balance sheet come from appreciation of asset values or have they come from building your retained earnings?

How has your Debt to Net Worth changed over the last few years?

Are you drawing on your operating line of credit to make loan payments?

From the Home Quarter

It amazes me how what was ingrained into our long term memory for so long was so quickly forgotten. The memories of the indescribable hardships of the 1980s and 1990s have seemingly been overtaken by the boom years of 2007-2013. The willingness to replace the history lessons of tight margins and poor cash flow with the euphoria of big profits and cash to burn has led to many farms now facing a debt and cash crisis similar to what was common in the final 20 years of the last century.

The trickle-down effect of debt stems from when debt levels increase as fast as, or faster than, the borrower’s long term cash flow and net income. While asset levels increase, sometimes very rapidly, tremendous growth in debt levels eat away at potential equity and use up available cash flow. While the land base has expanded and late model equipment efficiently farms all the acres, while the bins may be full and the employees are busy, it all trickles down to cash.

When the demands on your cash are a raging river, it is pretty hard to live on a trickle.



farming should be like baseball

Farm Management Could Take a Lesson From Baseball

If you love statistics, then you probably love baseball. Where else can you know with certainty that your starting pitcher has a propensity to throw more fast-balls than breaking pitches to left-handed batters at home during afternoon games in June under sunny skies with a slight north-west wind? While this is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek poke at the nauseating volume of stats that originate from the game of baseball, such statistics and the subsequent use of those statistics have real world applications.

I’m sure many of you have seen the movie Moneyball. (I’m sure most of you have because I watch VERY few movies, and even I’VE seen it.) As the story unfolded, there many beautiful examples of how the management team of the Oakland Athletics baseball club used statistics to improve their team. In this specific scene (I can’t recall who the player was) Assistant GM Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) explicitly instructs the player to “take the first pitch” during every at bat.  The reason was because through the use of statistics, and tracking the data, management knew that this player got on base more often when he took the first pitch. In the movie, it worked, and this player’s on-base-percentage increased almost immediately.

What would have happened had this team’s management not had, or used, such important information? The player may have been released, sent down to the minors, or traded to another team, the manager (bench boss) may have been fired.  Spread those “uninformed decisions” across the entire roster, and failure is sure to proliferate.

Livestock and dairy farms have been heading down the road to improved data management for years already. Average daily gain is not a new concept in beef operations. Robotics in dairy parlors bring a whole new level of data management. In conversation with a farm family that is investigating the benefits of robotics in a dairy parlor, I’ve learned that through RFID technology and a robot milker, they will be able to record and monitor milk volumes and milking frequency (a cow can come to the robot for milking whenever she chooses.) The management team can then compare results across the herd to determine which cow(s) is producing more or less than others cows under similar conditions. Informed decisions can then be made.

Grain farms having been catching up in recent years. With field mapping technology we can create yield maps; overlay that with crop inputs applied and we can tell which areas of each field are more profitable than others.

But that is way ahead of where most of the industry is generally at. By and large, many farm operations still don’t know the true profitability of a specific crop on their whole farm, let alone any given field.

The progression of profitability management, which requires stringent data management, begins at the crop level, advances to the field level, and reaches the pinnacle at the acre level.


  • determining which crops to exclude or include in your rotation by clearly understanding which crop makes you money and which one doesn’t;
  • deciding which fields to seed to which crop, or even which fields to renew with the landlord or which to relinquish based on profitability by field;
  • controlling your investment in crop inputs by acre to maximize your profit potential of the field, the crop, and your whole farm.

None of this is new. All the farm shows and farm publications dedicate significant space to all the tools and techniques available in the marketplace to facilitate such gathering of useful information. Equipment manufacturers and data management companies have invested enormous volumes of time and capital into creating tools and platforms to collect and manage your data. But like any tool, its value is only apparent when it is used to its full potential.

Almost all of the farms I speak with achieve greater clarity in the profitability of each crop in their rotation. I have a 13,000ac client that has taken several major steps toward measuring profitability by field. They have found that the extra work required to COLLECT this information is minimal. The extra work required to MANAGE this information is greatly offset by the benefit of clearly understanding that some of their rented land is just not profitable under any crop. Do you suppose they are looking forward to relinquishing some $90/ac rented land that just isn’t profitable enough to pay that high rent?

Direct Questions

Which of the crops in your rotation are profitable? Which are not? How profitable are they? Do they meet your expectations for return on investment?

Collecting the data is easy; managing the data takes some effort. What effort are you prepared to invest to make the most informed decisions possible?

How are you fully utilizing the tools available to you? If you’re not, why would you have them?

From the Home Quarter

Baseball collects gargantuan volumes of data on players, plays, games, and seasons. Much of it seems useless to laypeople like us, but to those who make their living in “the grand old game,” the data is what they live and breathe by. Agriculture should be no different. We should be creating consecutive series’ of data on our fertility, seed, chemicals, equipment, human resources, etc, for each year we operate, for each field we sow, for each person in our employ. Management cannot make informed decisions without adequate and accurate information. Now, with all the tools, techniques, and support readily available to help farmers collect adequate and accurate information, the last piece that may be missing is, “What to do with all that data?” While it can be boring to analyze data and create projections, I can assure everyone that the most profitable farmers I know all share one common habit: they spend time on their numbers, they know their numbers, and they make informed decisions based on those numbers.

You collect the information. I can help you use it. I’ll make tractor calls (as opposed to house calls) during seeding…as long as you have a buddy seat. Call or email to set up a time.

asset rich cash poor

Asset Rich, Cash Poor (Kim Quoted in the News)

A tweet led to an email, which led to a phone call…

It was back in March that I tweeted the following:

This, and the short Twitter conversation that followed it, garnered an email, and then a telephone interview with Jennifer Blair from Alberta Farmer Express.

Below is an excerpt of what she wrote. For the article in its entirety, click here.

” ‘The funny thing about prosperity and successive years of prosperity is it allows people to form some really bad habits,’…

…And for those producers, being ‘asset rich and cash poor’ isn’t going to cut it anymore.

‘When you look back over the last two generations, it seems like the mantra has been that farmers are ‘asset rich and cash poor.’ It’s almost worn like a badge of honour,’ said Gerencser… ”

Direct Questions

What do you think? Have assets, especially equipment, been increased too fast to the detriment of cash holdings and future cash flow?

What is a reasonable level of investment in assets relative to your net profit? Are you earning an adequate return on your investment?

From the Home Quarter

Bad habits can form easily, but like any habit, bad ones can be broken. Chasing equity is something we’ve always done and that may have worked a generation ago, when the risks were as they are today but the volumes of cash at risk each year were far less. We cannot do what we’ve always done and expect a result different from what we’ve always gotten.

Asset rich and cash poor will not suffice through the next business cycle.

I’d like to hear your thoughts; leave a Reply below.

old school farming

Social License and Its Impact on Farming

Last week at our local CAFA chapter meeting was the second time I got to hear a presentation from Shelley Jones. Shelley is the Manager of Agriculture Awareness with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. Her topic, both times, was Social License. Social License is becoming as much of a buzz word in agriculture as it is becoming a major issue not to be ignored. I’ve blogged in the past (a couple years ago now) about how I feel that agriculture is “under attack” from well funded activists and industries whose gain would come at the expense of conventional agriculture. While I hoped that the activism was a fad that might fade away, clearly it hasn’t; we as players in this most remarkable and diverse industry need to understand the impact of social license, recognize our role in the discussion, and enthusiastically take action.

We in agriculture are not alone. The oil & gas industry and the coal industry, among others, are also under attack. Those industries are putting together plans of action to deal with the activism. Sadly, it seems none of us were prepared for this ahead of time, and now feel like we have to “catch up” in getting our message out.

We had a great discussion at CAFA during Shelley’s presentation. Opinions were varied. One in particular suggested that we as farmers need to take that nobility we so proudly hold and check it at the door. The mind set that we “feed the world” and the never-ending gratitude that we are entitled to because of it is actually causing us harm, said this one opinion. His point is well taken: the consumer hasn’t always been our focus because we know we produce safe quality food. We know we farm in the most sustainable manner we can. Isn’t that clear to everyone? Why would the consumer put up any resistance?

What we’ve forgotten, or maybe it is that we just haven’t taken notice, is that our population is no longer ag focused. It was said today in the meeting that “years ago, no one planned any major events in May or late August through October because of seeding and harvest respectively. Now, there is little concern to planning weddings or vacations during those times because fewer people are affected; a wedding on September long weekend might only exclude one family from the long list of guests.” Translation: fewer people are farming.

Of course we know that fewer people are farming today than 10 years ago, than 20 years ago, etc. And while we feel we’ve reacted to that trend by farming more acres and increasing yields, what we haven’t done is anticipated how severe the disconnect between John Q. Public and primary food production actually would become. The average non-farming person has almost no clue where food comes from or how it is grown.

In fact, most still sadly believe:

  • that farmers are overall wearing, pitchfork carrying, laborious people;
  • that the proverbial “little red barn” and an open tractor are normal;
  • that any farm that is bigger than said red barn and open tractor must be a “corporate farm” owned by some large eastern Canadian corporation or a US conglomerate;
  • that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

How did this happen? How did our society swing from a primarily agricultural base to what it is today? Without getting onto a tangent of socio-economic trends, which have been debated feverishly through the 80’s and 90’s, what I’m really asking is “How did such a disconnect come about?”

It comes from taking things for granted for too long. Farmers took for granted that they were trusted, that they produced safe food in a sustainable fashion. Non-farmers took for granted that the food they purchased from their grocery stores was abundant, safe, and cheap. The internet has changed all of that by giving a platform to activists.

I felt so completely naive over the winter when on the agenda at a conference I was attending was a man who’s business it was to lobby the federal government. Wait, lobbyists are for hire? They’re not just people with conviction and a drive to change something they passionately believe in? Nope. You can hire a lobbyist. You can hire a person or firm to grind on the government, get face time in the media, and generally cause a ruckus…all for a fee, of course. These lobbyists, or activitsts as it were, represent their employer, the entity that hired them to promote a specific agenda. Fact, rationale, residual effects begone! These activists don’t need to be in Ottawa, or any provincial capital. They have the internet; where anyone can be a celebrity, spew rants of blatant falsehoods with an abundance of sensationalism to garner enough of a following that uninformed people simply believe that “it must be true.”

Combine this with how it is common among marketers to no longer promote what the consumer wants, but to promote what the consumer doesn’t yet know he wants, and we have a perfect storm. Consider technology and gadgets. Before HD television, did any of us know we wanted a 720p or a 1080p or now a 4K television? I still don’t know what the hell any of those are, but darn it all, the consumer now expects it! Did the electronics manufacturers build a few 4K TVs first to see how they’d sell, or did they go full out into producing 4K TVs and let the marketing look after creating a demand? We all know it is the latter.

Back to farming, we now have well funded activists with a platform that knows no bounds, who are free to generate as many half-truths, cherry-picked facts, and blatant falsehoods as they like in order to advance their agenda. Do they give a rat’s keester about how it affects you, your family, your community, or your industry? Nope. I believe that you or I do not matter to these activists. They don’t care one iota how you farm or if you’re still farming next year. They are only here to stir up a ruckus and gather “followers,” uninformed people who latch on to these revocable fallacies, minions who are intended to carry the momentum that the activists have started. Poor sheeple, if only they knew they were nothing more than pawns in a game.

The danger really comes into focus as the sheeple begin to do the activist’s work for them, shouting their “truth” from the rooftops and gaining more followers and momentum, convincing other people to “vote with their wallet.” I vote with my wallet regularly in how and where I chose to spend my money. We’ve been groomed to live by the old adage that “the customer is always right.” But, what about when they’re not?

Readers who have followed my writing have read it several times and will continue to for a while yet: you don’t know what you don’t know. These consumers don’t know what actually happens on your farm, in your pastures, or in your barns. They get their education from the University of Google where facts are not checked and reality is whatever you want to believe.

Are these activists, and their loyal followers, getting in front of legislators? Yup.

Will they influence future laws and regulations that will affect how you run your business? They might – – they’re sure trying!

Does getting into a fight with any of them online help? Nope.

What “we” can do in this has been well documented already in many different places. Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan is a great place to start: There is also Farm & Foodcare Ontario: Both of these entities are focused on informing the consumer and would benefit from your volunteerism. If you haven’t yet watched License to Farm, do it soon: The list of “to-do’s” for what you can do in this situation does not need any additions from me.

Direct Questions

How would your farm be different if the laws forbade you from using certain (or all) pesticides on your crops, certain (or all) vaccines on your livestock, or mandated how and when you managed your production?

We talk regularly about financial risk in these articles. You consider market & production risk regularly. Currency risk  and interest rate risk will become more dominant in future conversations. How will socio-economic risk affect your farm?

From The Home Quarter

One of the greatest benefits of farming is the independence, the connection with the land, and contributing to society in a way that few others can. For any of us to think that the independence we enjoy, and maybe even take for granted, is safe for us and our future generations is a bit naive. There are major factors at play, any or all of which could affect your future in this dilemma we call social license. You, me, and everyone in the industry can step up and make a positive impact. Or, we can take our way of life for granted and risk getting trampled by a stampede of sheeple.