Wednesday, 06 February 2013 14:00

Farmers can help each other

Written by  Garrett Simmons —Southern Alberta Newspapers
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Agricultural producers often operate inside their own little bubbles.


They closely guard information which may give their competitors an advantage — what crops they’re considering growing, how profitable their operations were last year and facts and figures on fertilizer and pesticide applications.
But according to Dr. Danny Klinefelter, a professor and extension economist at Texas A & M, Canadian farmers could greatly benefit from the spirit of co-operation developed in many other countries among farmers. Klinefelter’s presentation Jan. 25 at Lethbridge College’s annual Tiffin conference “Who Needs Vegas? Dealing With Uncertainty in Agriculture”, put a focus on peer advisory groups as a way for producers to help their own operations.
“It’s a great way to share what you know and fill in the gaps of what you don’t know,” he said. “That’s how you get better.”
Klinefelter has witnessed how productive these farmer-driven groups have been in Venezuela, and added they have cropped up in the United States as well. Groups in Venezuela meet as often as once a month, according to Klinefelter, who added American peer advisory groups meet less often, due to demanding on-farm schedules.
The groups offer farmers an opportunity to bounce ideas off one another, and should include members that are well respected and successful.
“Populate the group with people who are successful,” said Klinefelter. “You want to soar with the eagles, not scrap with the turkeys. Don’t be the guy who only complains. You want people there that challenge you and do things differently than you.”
Gaining multiple vantage points, having a sounding board for honest feedback, identifying alternative and expanding access to information all all advantages peer advisory groups offer, he added, along with increased accountability.
“What you learn is you don’t tell them about something unless you are going to do it,” said Klinefelter. “They’ll ask you about it later.”
Increased co-operation can also result from the loose gatherings, as Klinefelter raised one example of how American producers have banded together to cost share needs-based training sessions.
As farms grow in size, and corporate farms become more the norm, he added this type of approach is needed in agriculture, whether it involves sharing equipment, reducing costs, accessing technical expertise or pooling to obtain greater market access.
“To stay independent, farms are going to have to become more interdependent.”
Klinefelter offered some other advice and added farms should also conduct regular autopsies of their operations.
“Every farm needs to debrief and look at the results of your major decisions and find out what went right and what went wrong.”
Benchmarking is another key step in the process, as he maintained producers need to compare what they do to others around them.
“I would say 90 per cent of farmers have no clue how they stack up to each other.”
Setting priorities, focusing on the most important parts of operation and putting the right people in the right positions were other words of wisdom Klinefelter had for the Tiffin conference attendees.

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