Visionary thinking for the next generation
René Morel, a dairy and cranberry producer in the Centre-du-Québec region, has always dreamed big. When he took over his father Gilles’ dairy farm, Ferme Girelou, in 1997, this third-generation farmer had a strategic vision of substantially increasing the company’s quota. Mission accomplished. Today, he has 600 dairy cows and nearly 600 kg more quota than he began with. What’s more, this entrepreneur has become co-owner of two cranberry farms that cover about 420 acres.
Taking calculated risks
In 2007, René seized the opportunity to acquire another dairy farm in a nearby town, allowing him to double his quota. Motivated by the expansion of the herd, he decided to completely rebuild the barn on the family farm, integrating a milking carousel that offers him more milking flexibility while reducing the necessity for further investments in milking infrastructure as his herd grows.
At the same time, he also took possession of 600 acres of land devoted to field crops. Over half of the newly acquired land was sandy, making it suitable for growing cranberries. René had already considered diversifying his business and launching new products to add value to his operation, and this land gave him the opportunity to try something different.
Knowing your strengths
Despite not having in-depth knowledge of cranberries, he did have knowledge of field crops and farm management and decided to broaden his skillset by starting Canneberge Centre-du-Québec in 2010 with his wife Maggy. Since then, the operation has grown to over four times its initial size through the purchase of neighbouring properties, and partnering with other entrepreneurs has allowed them to recently become 50 per cent shareholders of Canneberge Désilets.
Integrating the next generation into the decision-making process
René and Maggy have four children between the ages of 17 and 22. They all intend to take over the dairy farm and eventually the cranberry operations, each bringing unique business expertise with them.
Élodie, the eldest, is currently studying agricultural economics. Félix graduated in 2020 with a degree in agricultural business management and technology and is presently co-owner of Ferme Girelou. Jacob holds a diploma of professional studies in animal production and is pursuing training in agricultural mechanics. The youngest, Saralie, is enrolled in a college accounting and management program. The siblings’ combined skills will be valuable assets to the operation.
To facilitate the gradual integration of his four children into the dairy farm, René lets them participate in decision-making. “I prefer to help them and encourage them to develop their talents and abilities so that they feel fully involved, even if their choices don’t always match mine.”
“The company has been able to prosper and grow well because René is an outstanding manager, a go-getter, a developer, a visionary, an intuitive and a calculated risk-taker,” explains Maggy. And René acknowledges that he wouldn’t be able to do it all without his spouse and business partner. “Maggy is an indispensable ally for all administrative formalities,” he says. The two go hand in hand.
My business decisions have always been made with the highest profitability and long-term viability of my business in mind.
René doesn’t have a degree in agriculture himself, but his father, from whom he says he inherited his entrepreneurial spirit, taught him all the knowledge he needed to succeed. René improved his management skills by building on his strengths, learning from his mistakes, observing others, developing a keen interest in numbers and surrounding himself with the right people.
“My business decisions have always been made with the highest profitability and long-term viability of my business in mind. I use various means to maximize profits and reduce production costs to increase profitability. I try to limit expenses by setting realistic goals that allow me to continue to invest and prosper. Among other things, by working the soil with the no-till farming technique for more than 20 years, I use less machinery and reduce my labour and energy costs,” he says.
Surround yourself well
René believes in the importance of consulting experts to help develop his business and doesn’t hesitate to ask for advice. “It is very important to surround yourself with professionals who will help you in different areas, such as administration, financing, genetics and feeding. I am thinking, in particular, of the farm management union in my region and the Quebec Cranberry Growers Association, which have been incredible sources of information. They have provided me with sound advice and access to accurate data that has been of great benefit to me.”
René also places his trust in his key employees, whom he considers to be the pillars of his businesses’ success. “You have to let them do their business in your business,” he says. This delegated approach to personnel management practices seems to be paying off as goals are continually met. “Also, I have more time to do other projects,” he says.
René and Maggy hope to gradually move away from dairy production as their children take over that aspect of the business. They plan to focus on further developing the cranberry operation, while supporting the next generation. And they’re always on the lookout for new business opportunities that could generate future growth.
From an AgriSuccess article by Mélanie Lagacé.