Get more from your winter meetings

  • 3 min read

It’s full steam ahead for the winter conference season. And with a multitude of hot topics up for discussion, selecting which event to attend is a tough decision for producers.

Give priority to conferences that motivate.

“I always urge farmers to give priority to conferences that motivate them, based on their interests – agronomy, finance, trade, whatever it might be,” says Saskatchewan producer Bernie McClean, president of the Canadian Canola Growers’ Association. “There’s a lot to talk about this year.”

McClean values industry discussions, but he prioritizes family time and shared experiences. So when it comes to conferences, as much as possible, he and his wife Cara participate together. Off the farm, she’s a finance professional. That drives part of her focus at meetings, along with the social aspect of speaking with other producers.

“In both good and bad years, it’s encouraging to hear what the industry is working on as well as what others are experiencing,” Cara says.

Have others cover for you

Jan VanderHout, vice-chair of the Canadian Horticultural Council, runs a family greenhouse operation in Waterdown, Ont. Family members and employees divide up duties, and they’ll pitch in for one another if someone’s attending a meeting.

Going to meetings is important, but it’s not worth it if your farm suffers because you’re not there,” VanderHout says. “You can’t let the wheels fall off.”

Occasionally, he’ll try to combine a bit of sightseeing with a meeting. But usually, he gets to and from a meeting as efficiently as possible.

Says VanderHout: “What works for me is a mad dash, there and back. If a meeting is for a day-and-half, that’s how long I’m away from the farm.”

Look for outstanding speakers and networking opportunities

Alberta producer Jeff Nielsen, president of the Grain Growers of Canada, says good meetings combine several features attractive to producers. But to him, speakers and networking stand out.

The same goes for Saskatchewan producer Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, international director with the Global Farmers Network.

Networking was always the most important part of the winter knowledge events for me,” Jolly-Nagel says. “However, now as a speaker myself I tend to scrutinize the agenda more often.”

Some meetings, such as the Grain Farmers’ of Ontario March Classic, have become renowned for bringing in high-profile speakers, such as comedian Rick Mercer and astronaut Chris Hadfield, to attract a breadth of producers, regardless of gender or age.

Nielsen hopes participants find producer meetings stimulating, and they’re inspired to get further involved with their organizations.

“We need voices across the spectrum, and a meeting is a chance for your voice to be heard. After all, it’s your levy supporting that organization,” Nielsen says. “Some producers worry that if they go to a meeting, they’ll get wrangled into doing something they didn’t expect, but you can get involved as much or as little as you want. Taking part in a meeting is an opportunity to see how that organization works before you go any further.”

Bottom line

Veterans of the farm meeting circuit recommend producers focus on their interests, their farm’s priorities, top-notch speakers and networking in order to make the most ag-related meetings and conferences. Don’t avoid attending for fear of being wrangled into a volunteer job – instead, consider it an opportunity to find out how the organization works. Arrange to have family or top employees fill in at the farm so business can continue as usual.

Article by: Owen Roberts