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3 tips for bringing new ideas to the farm

2.5 min read

Pictured (L to R): Kara, Erica, Dawn, Tom and Andrew Pate. Photo credit: Brantwood Farms

Broaching potential change with family and business partners – for livestock, cover crop strategies and marketing plans – is not without its difficulties. Proactive communication strategies and putting ideas to paper can make a real difference.

1. Make meetings a priority

For Andrew Pate, a fruit and vegetable farmer from Brantford, Ont., weekly business meetings have been invaluable, helping his family members develop and implement their own business ideas.

Any idea should include expectations of roles and goals.

Generally, Pate says, the bigger-picture, long-term plans are discussed in winter and early spring when more time is available to review how resources could be leveraged. The busier months focus on day-to-day operations.

“We also have a year-end review where we talk about what went well, what didn’t. And make adjustments,” Pate says.

These meetings are critical in bringing change to farm businesses, says Annessa Good, a Calgary-based transition specialist with FCC. They provide an opportunity to review things like overall finances – required information for a viable business plan.

“Finances might seem like a black-and-white subject, but family dynamics are always at play,” she says.

Discussing finances and other resources is an important part of the Pate family’s communication strategy. However, their focus on direct marketing and agritourism leaves perhaps more room for creativity in pursuing new opportunities. A general openness to new business ideas, as well as a willingness to discuss those ideas, help make that creativity pay off.

2. Define roles and address expectations

Steady communication also helps provide operational clarity. Knowing how a business works day to day, Good says, allows for the definition of roles and responsibilities. The expectations of each party also become clearer.

“Unspoken expectations are the silent killers of family farms,” she says, adding it doesn’t hurt to develop formal job descriptions. “Job descriptions can help set out those expectations [of] who is in charge of what, and how they can progress in those responsibilities over time.”

3. Put ideas – and numbers – to paper

For Pate and his family, new ideas must fit their overall farm vision. They discuss considerations such as the number of staff required and how long the idea will take to plan and do. They perform a cost-benefit analysis before making their final decision.

Good says all new ideas should be well thought out and put in writing. Such detail could include advice from a lender, scenarios based on historical numbers, cash flow projections and a timeline for getting it done.

“The primary objective is to prevent a quick shutdown,” Good says. “If a lot of work goes into the proposal, then the expectation is that effort is matched from the answering generation.”

Good reiterates that any idea – regardless of which party proposes it – should include expectations of roles and goals so there is something to work toward. Other stakeholders then have a chance to make the details reflect their own expectations.

“Hopefully clear, honest conversation results in a thriving mutual agreement,” Good says.

From an AgriSuccess article by Matt McIntosh.

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