According to the old adage, a farmer is a jack of all trades but a master at none. While that’s perhaps truer than ever, producers are increasingly turning to professionals to fill the gaps where they lack expertise.
How do you decide what to do yourself and what to hire out?
Some beautiful farm shops have been constructed in recent years. I toured one last spring that carried a price tag of about $500,000. These producers obviously believe they can do enough on their own equipment repair and fabrication work to warrant this investment.
Others look at the increasing electronic complexity of modern equipment and have their dealership(s) on speed dial for whenever anything goes awry.
There’s no right or wrong answer. People have different abilities and affinities. The difference in recent times comes in the range of services you can hire.
How many of us do our own tax returns anymore? Especially if your farm is incorporated, there is a lot to know and understand. I gladly pay for professional accounting services and while it isn’t cheap, the tax savings pay the bills many times over. Tax laws are continually changing.
On top of that, the financial analysis and advice is valuable. If your accountant is simply figuring out your taxes, find someone who can provide greater value. Estate and succession planning is a process, not an event, and it requires strong financial analysis.
While accounting has long been a natural for most of us to hire, other professional services are becoming mainstream.
Agronomics is an area that has seen massive growth and change. Whether it’s a big firm like AgriTrend, or a local agrologist providing a crop scouting service, a growing number of producers are paying for professional advice on what and when to spray, as well as their soil fertility needs.
The growth in acres has been a driver. You might not have the time to physically scout all your fields in a timely manner. The other consideration is expertise. Can you keep track of all the herbicide and fungicide products available? Have you followed the latest research on fertilizer placement and new products?
Field monitoring has become more sophisticated. Leaf tissue testing is sometimes valuable. So are drones and even satellite imagery. Some scouting services will install weather monitoring stations because rainfall and soil moisture can vary greatly from one location to another.
A traditional source of information has been your farm input supplier. You tell them about your weed, insect or disease problem and they sell you a solution – but do they supply unbiased advice? Many producers like the idea of guidance from a qualified individual that has no vested interest in what or where you buy.
Some producers love marketing their grain and couldn’t imagine taking advice on how much to sell where and when. Others hate marketing and feel they often make poor decisions that cost a lot of money.
All sorts of market reports are available for free and by subscription, but if that doesn’t turn your crank, you can hire a firm to work with you on a marketing program specific to your needs. Some firms will even want to know your financial situation so they can monitor cash flow needs and factor that into sales timing.
Will they make you money? Can anyone really know where grain prices will go over the course of a marketing year? That’s something each producer has to access.
Some producers are excited by the potential of precision farming with variable rate application. There are professionals who can help you with that. If predictions are correct and we’re truly moving into an era of robotic, remote controlled field equipment, many producers will be turning to outside expertise.
As farms grow, more labour is required. Is human resource management part of your skillset, or could you use help in recruiting and retaining good people? Does everyone on your team have a clear job description? Have they received adequate training on the equipment they’ll be operating?
Mechanic, agronomist, accountant, manager, marketer – a lot of different hats. Meanwhile, you’re balancing the needs of the farm business with family considerations and trying to establish some work-life balance.
Given these factors, it isn’t surprising that the range of professional services available for hire continues to grow.
By Kevin Hursh
You really don’t know what you can grow until you try. That’s why the mix of crops continues to change across Western Canada.
At one point back in the early days of lentil production, most of the small green lentils (known then as Eston lentils) were grown in Manitoba. Now lentils of any kind are virtually absent in the Keystone province. Meanwhile, lentils of all kinds have exploded in Saskatchewan.
Why lentils have taken so long to catch on in Alberta remains a mystery. Lentils have long been an important crop along the western side of Saskatchewan all the way from south of Leader to north of Kindersley, but as soon as you crossed the boundary into Alberta, producers had all sorts of reasons why lentils weren’t viable.
That’s starting to change. In 2014, Saskatchewan farmers harvested 3.0 million acres of lentils as compared to just 110,000 acres in Alberta. By 2016, Saskatchewan lentil acreage had increased to 5.28 million, but Alberta acreage increased at an even more rapid pace hitting 575,000.
Total lentil acreage will likely drop a bit this year due to disease issues, particularly root rots.
I first started growing a few lentils on our farm in southwestern Saskatchewan back in the early 90s. Summerfallow was still big back then and we initially grew lentils on fallow because drought was considered risk. A few field pea seeds were mixed in with the lentils seed we obtained one year and those occasional pea plants mixed into the lentils seemed to do quite well.
I remember asking Dr. Al Slinkard, the father of pulse crop production in Western Canada, if field peas would be a viable cropping option for us. Dr. Slinkard said perhaps in a wetter than normal year on summerfallow peas might do OK in the Palliser triangle, but really they were a crop that should be reserved for areas with more moisture.
Carbon taxes and/or cap and trade systems will be implemented across the country. Everyone has their own opinion on whether this makes sense, but let’s concentrate on the incentives that would encourage farmers to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
If governments collect a carbon tax, they’ll have money for programs to encourage changes in how we run our lives and conduct our businesses.
When the carbon tax issue is raised, agriculture invariably points to the adoption of minimum till, direct seeding systems and the resulting carbon sequestration. Many farmers and organizations continue to argue that producers should be paid for this. At the very least, say the advocates, farmers should be exempt from carbon taxes because of their carbon sink activities.
Don’t expect that to happen. Most grain farmers have been direct seeding for a long time and we didn’t get into it to store carbon. Quantifying and policing carbon sequestration is administratively difficult. Plus, this is “business as usual.” It isn’t a further reduction in emissions.