I have a client (husband and wife) and the wife always jokes how I help their marriage. I have heard this before from other clients and always took it in good fun and never put too much thought into it until recently. This particular client has repeated it several times, so I began to analyze what my type of service means to different people.
The intention of my services is to provide financial direction to improve farming and ranching operations. This is what my skill set and experience provides. It was never my intention for these services to go any further than that. Each client, though, interprets the service differently.
I have farm clients who enjoy the opportunity to share financial results and talk openly about their concerns. That conversation is difficult to have with just anyone. Farmers want to share their information with someone who actually wants to listen. In the case of some of my clients, their spouses are interested in the farm, but only to a certain extent. They do not want to hear about too many financial details. So who can these farmers talk with? Sharing these details with others presents issues of confidentiality. They cannot nor do they feel comfortable sharing these conversations with just anyone.
Every producer has an accountant. One would think that this relationship would result in an opportunity to share financial information. It does not always work that way. A lot of accountants involved want to talk about certain parts of the operation but for the most part, it is limited to income and expense as it pertains to income tax. Not all accountants are fluent in agriculture lingo. Farmers like to talk about financial performance of certain varieties of crops and different growing techniques. They want to talk about genetics and bloodlines in their herd. This type of conversation is tough to have with a lot of accountants. Another reason this relationship does not produce a lot of conversation is the time of year. Farmers meet and talk with their accountant right in the heart of tax season. Accountants are jammed up trying to complete 80 per cent of their work in 20 per cent of the calendar year. So even if you have the right accountant, there still may be issues.
Bankers are probably the first choice for producers to share financial information, but not all farms have a good dedicated account manager. If there is a revolving door at the bank, producers will not engage in conversations with the bank unless they need something. There needs to be a strong relationship to engage conversation.
The farms I deal with – where the husband and wife are very engaged in decision-making – will use my services to settle disputes. One will feel strongly toward a certain financial direction while the other wants the farm to do something else. I bring a neutral third-party opinion to the debate and hopefully some financial mathematics that can assist with an objective perspective. This will be the catalyst for constructive discussion. I also validate each of the positions as they are based on good intentions. This is the case with my above-mentioned clients who feel I have assisted in the positive health of their marriage.
These clients use me as an opportunity to talk openly about the farming operation. It is like a board meeting. Both parties prepare for this event and we bring constructive respectful conversation to the table. It is a time and date that is meant for farm business. This dedication of time is a very important aspect to the process. It is easy to get pushed aside in this busy world. Couples will often say, “we will talk about that later.” Or worse, “when we are not so busy, we will sit down and figure that out.” We all know life is too busy.
Farming is a very stressful occupation. Farmers are owners/operators of small businesses. They have to make hundreds of decisions each year that can have a huge impact on their operation. Anyone in that situation needs someone to talk to. They need to bounce ideas off of someone. They need to vent about situations. They need validation that what they are doing is correct.
Some of the topics/questions my clients bring to me are:
- How do we handle the loss of revenue from a crop issue or calving problem?
- Can we buy our neighbour’s land? Should we?
- Should we trade off equipment now or wait and pay additional repair costs?
- Our kids are interested in farming, how do we involve them?
- The bank has issues with our financial position.
If producers do not have anyone to discuss these types of issues with, they will suffer. All of this leads to an abundance of stress. This can lead to depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse. Within family operations, this type of stress can lead to conflict that can tear a farm apart.
Communication alone cannot solve all of these issues, but it is the beginning of the process. Everyone needs someone to talk to.
In June of 2017, Kim Keller, co-founder of Saskatchewan Women in Agriculture, sent out a tweet that started a provincial conversation. She had received a message that someone was looking for help to deal with a farmer who had taken his life. The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan jumped on board saying the conversation regarding mental health was long overdue. Premier Brad Wall reached out to Keller asking her to share her discussions with the Department of Agriculture.
Shortly after Keller’s tweet, I attended a Canadian Association of Farm Advisors meeting with our Yorkton chapter. Our president, Delores Moskal, had seen the urgency for the topic and brought in speakers to discuss mental health issues that we, as advisors, could learn about. We also discussed options for our clients, the main one being the Farm Stress Line. This is a provincial initiative in Saskatchewan.
As an advisor who works directly with producers, I have an opportunity to offer help. I deal on the financial side of their lives which is an area that can attract a lot of stress. My role is to listen and engage in conversation to start the process of problem solving. Simple empathy can go a long way in helping a producer get through a tough time.
For the producers who are feeling the pressure that their industry can apply, find someone to talk to. It does not have to be a financial advisor. It can be a friend, colleague, neighbour or one of your many industry partners. I can guarantee you that most times, your situation is not unique. I can also guarantee that you will feel better sharing your situation.