Ready to meet your people? The benefits of joining a peer group
Professional agricultural peer groups are built on the benefits of sharing aspirations, challenges, experiences and goals of running a farm business. They create community and allow participants to engage and share without concerns over competition.
And that’s exactly what Shelley Gunn, a grain farmer from southwest Saskatchewan, says she gained from her farmer peer group.
Gunn participated in one of three FCC peer group pilot projects launched in November 2021 after hearing about the program at an FCC event.
She and five other grain/crop farmers of various ages from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario were matched with a facilitator who led business management conversations. Expected to share and advise one another, the peer group covered several management topics specific to their operations, shared resources and contacts and fast-tracked solutions. They acted as a group of trusted advisors for one another.
I wanted a community to talk to who we are not competing with.
While initially nervous about getting involved, Gunn quickly saw the opportunity to meet with farmers from different sectors, age groups and locations as an enjoyable and valuable experience.
“Farming is really isolating,” says Gunn, referring to the difficulties of sharing business information with others in her community.
“In our community, we are all in competition here. There is often no report card showing how we’re doing compared to how others do things. I wanted a community to talk to who we are not competing with.”
And that’s the goal, says Kendall Litschko, Program Manager with FCC Advisory Services. She says as a national organization, FCC was able to create a group that could lend their own experiences and build confidence among each other without the competition pressures often associated with more localized professional connections.
“The groups are really focused on business management,” Litschko says. “They’re not marketing or production groups. Participants may know what their businesses need is, but the group gives them confidence and support to make actionable decisions. It’s having that sounding board."
Apprehension to appreciation
Litschko says sharing ideas in the group is just as important as learning and solving business management issues.
“When someone has a lightbulb moment and realizes they have experience to share, that’s just as important as getting answers from the group,” she says.
Initially, Gunn was unsure if sharing her business operation experiences would be helpful to others in the group who, as she describes, “might have better credentials.” The fact that she comes from a non-agricultural background did not help ease her apprehension, even though the 50-something farmer has been in agriculture for over two decades.
The diversity of backgrounds, personalities, ages and experiences became a boon for the entire process. Gunn says it added to the group dynamic, providing perspectives on where her business was at and how it might improve.
“Hearing others’ successes and struggles really gave me that sense of community. On a personal level, it really motivated me,” says Gunn. She also appreciated having other female farmer participants in the group, and those at different stages in their farming careers.
“For me, I didn’t want to show up every month and just chit-chat. I wanted homework and wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone. My [family] had things we talked about doing and just never had time, and the peer group helped motivate us to work on these.”
Developing human resource policies is one such example.
“As our farm grew, we have struggled to attract and retain people. There were lots of suggestions and help from the others and we were eventually given a contact for someone who does HR specifically. They helped us develop our policies.”
For her part, Gunn says she shared how her family manages landlord relationships – something they devote significant time and energy to since her farm business works with a lot of rented ground.
Gunn and the other five participants found so much value in their peer group, they decided to continue meeting after the pilot ended and remain connected via social media.
“That you could throw six people together who call themselves farmers and realize how complex farming is, and how many different views, ways of doing things, and how much learning about that helps you find solutions in different ways. You realize differences are ok, while still learning,” Gunn says.
FCC is actively recruiting for their Agriculture and Food and Beverage peer group programs starting in November 2022. Participation is free, with the goal of introducing producers to the concept of peer groups and peer-led learning.
To learn more or apply, visit fcc.ca/peer-groups.
Article by: Matt McIntosh