Being a lifelong learner is one of the most valuable attributes that has been passed on to me from my parents. I have been fortunate to learn from their example as they continue to learn, embracing new ideas and challenges even as they are well into their 70s and 80s. They have both adopted lifestyle, business, and personal changes as new knowledge has become available to them. With this in my background, I decided to take the plunge and commit to C-Team, a course offered by Agri-Food Training.
C-Team stands for Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management and “is designed specifically for producers and ranchers. Through four modules, which are held in different cities across Canada, you will develop and implement your own strategic and operations plans for your farm” (www.agrifoodtraining.com).
Okay … big ideas… but what does it really mean? It is so easy, in our farm businesses and in life in general, to get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that we lose sight of the big picture – why we are doing what we are doing? In Ontario, the Grow Your Farm Profits workshops (which I taught for a period of time) have a similar goal – taking you out of your daily work day and doing the hard work of evaluating the why behind all of that work.
So last February – I ventured to Vancouver for a week of intensive learning and some hard work. At the time, we were considering doing a major upgrade to our grain handling system that had been built and modified over the past 50 years. It didn’t owe us anything, but it was becoming more and more difficult to manage and there were some shortcomings. I was wrestling with different ideas and quotes and thoughts about efficiencies and downpayments… and of course, deadlines.
But I stepped aside from all of that, got on a plane and started on a journey that I am only part way through now. Tonight I am sitting in a hotel room in Calgary reflecting on the C-Team experience I’ve been fortunate to participate in up until now.
First of all, C-Team is something that requires you to be engaged to participate. As we all became more familiar with all of the faces around the table – we have shared more and more about our operations, our life experiences as farmers, as family members and as part of a bigger rural economy that plays such an important role in Canada.
As part of the course, we are each expected to really look at our own operations in a new and detailed way, then present our learnings to each other. That in itself can be daunting – but a level of trust is built as the course progresses and it becomes clear that people are happy to help each other so that everyone can learn and grow from the experience.
We have people in our group from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. As one of the elders in the group I am amazed at the enthusiasm, knowledge, and willingness to take on risk of the young people that are sitting in the room with me. And even just the things people are doing! In our group there are people who are growing canola, peas, lentils, wheat, beef cattle, bison, pheasants, tobacco, corn, soybeans, asparagus, strawberries, squash, cantaloupe, zucchini, lettuce, and celery.
It highlights for me once again the complexity and expertise involved with farming.
In spite of the fact that there is a huge geographical spread and an even bigger commodity spread, there are many commonalities that link us together. We share similar challenges and similar worries. We are all chasing that idea of how to keep our farms profitable, have quality of life, and pass something on to our children.
But bigger than that there are common themes that these farmers from across Canada value: community, improving their environment, treating their animals with care and respect, and building a good working life for their families and their employees. We all struggle with finding reliable employees and keeping them through busy and not so busy seasons. We struggle with increasing societal demands, but not necessarily a willingness to pay for those demands. We all struggle with a global marketplace that is impacted by erratic politics, climate change, policies, laws, and regulations.
Succession planning in an environment where land costs have made everything so highly valued is another issue that we all face – regardless of our stage of life. Two of the most dynamic speakers I’ve ever heard talked to us about the legal and tax implications of succession planning. While that might sound like a long day at the end of eight hours, the energy and engagement in the room was just as active as it was in the beginning. It was obvious that people are hungry for innovative ideas around how to transfer farm businesses as increasing land values make finding fair solutions seem ever more elusive.
At the end (or almost end) of a long and challenging harvest season, finding the energy to take on strategic planning and an intensive week of learning felt a bit daunting. Before I left, I was reminded of the importance of setting aside time to reflect and think about things other than that last 150 acres of soybeans still sitting out in the field waiting for the snow to go away. Again. Making a conscious and deliberate effort to learn, grow, and step outside my comfort zone is always rewarding. Being able to spend time with enthusiastic farmers from across the country – even if some of it involves sharing common struggles – reminds me that we aren’t alone and the opportunity to do so is a huge gift. ◊