Mentorship program open for applications; great benefits for all involved

Swift Current rancher Scott Gerbrandt is a participant in the 2020-21 CYL mentorship program.

A mentorship program for young producers provides a valuable opportunity to Swift Current rancher Scott Gerbrandt to learn more about the beef industry and build connections with others who share his passion.

He is a participant in the 2020-21 Cattlemen's Young Leaders (CYL) mentorship program, a national youth initiative of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

He was immediately interested in the program when he saw a CYL advertisement on social media stating it is open to those between the ages of 18 and 35 with a passion for the beef industry.

“The biggest thing that jumped out at me was it looked like a great networking program,” he said. “I was intrigued and interested to meet some of the other candidates and get into the program, and the mentorship aspect of it was really interesting too.”

He was very excited to be one of 16 finalists selected for the 2020-21 program year, and he is enjoying the experience. He feels the nine-month program will assist him to develop a business plan for his ranching operation.

“I've got lots of ideas that we could take on through our farming operation and it's sometimes challenging to identify which one is going to be worthwhile or which one is going to be a better idea than the next one,” he said.

In addition, the CYL program will help him to get more involved with the beef industry as he becomes more established as a rancher.

“The networking and industry knowledge I will gain in this program will certainly help as I become more involved and put my name forward as a representative,” he said.

He grew up on a farm southwest of Swift Current, where his parents still reside. He graduated in 2010 from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in agriculture and bioresource engineering, and has worked since then as a design engineer at Bourgault Industries Ltd.

He became more interested in the beef industry due to a growing involvement with the beef and hay operation on his grandparents’ farm northeast of Swift Current. Gerbrandt and his wife have been living on this farm since 2015. They manage a cow-calf herd along with a replacement heifer program, while he still works remotely as an engineer for Bourgault.

He feels the CYL program will be a good opportunity to gain a better understanding of the whole value chain in the beef industry and to learn more about the business management aspect of the industry.

The learning process already started during a virtual event in August 2020, when the 24 semi-finalists participated in roundtable discussions. He felt this event was certainly an early highlight of the program.

“Even if somebody was to get accepted as a semi-finalist, but not make it as a finalist, still participating in that roundtable discussion gets you in a face-to-face discussion with your peers,” he said. “It makes for good discussion and the topics are interesting and challenging at the same time.”

Mentorship is a key component of this program, and the 16 participants are matched with industry leaders in their area of interest.

“I was looking to learn more about the business management side and was also interested in some forage research,” he said.

His mentor is Brent Difley, who is currently a business development manager at Union Forage in Calgary. He still travels frequently to Saskatchewan to manage a joint venture with over 400 mother cows on a ranch north of Moose Jaw. He previously worked at Elanco Animal Health, where his 35-year career included roles in sales, sales management, strategic accounts management, and business development. 

Gerbrandt finds the weekly telephone discussions with his mentor very beneficial. These calls are supposed to be an hour, but it will usually last longer.

“I had a big list of questions before I even had a mentorship,” he said. “So now that he has knowledge in most of these areas, I've been whittling this list down and it's been good to have somebody to chat with.”

Difley previously participated in the CYL program as a mentor about six years ago, and he appreciates Gerbrandt’s enthusiasm during their discussions.

“I've been very impressed with Scott,” he said. “I enjoy working with him. I think it's going to be a very positive outcome. It's a really good match for us, because his interests and mine just line up very well.”

He emphasized it is the role of mentees to organize these meetings and to make sure they get what they need from their mentors.

“My role is to look at his roadmap, the plan of what he wants to learn from the program, and then do my best to deliver on those pieces so that he gets what he wants from the program,” he explained. “So it's either sharing knowledge I have or financial information that I have, or finding people that have that information that I know through my network.”

He has a passion for the cattle business and therefore considers his involvement with the CYL program to be a way to give back to the industry.

“You're giving back some of your experience to new, young producers,” he said. “Rather than them having to learn the hard way, there may be some experiences that we can impart that will save them time and money in progressing towards their goals.”

According to Difley the personalized approach of the CYL program is a significant advantage in comparison to other continuing education opportunities.

“I basically open my books and I say here's our financials, what do you want to know?” he explained. “So whether it's how to get financing, what our exact costs are per cow, what our revenue is, what our production numbers look like, I'm willing to share all of that. You can get some of that information, but it's usually pooled data and it's usually averages and it's difficult to sort it out. So just being able to look at the books of another farm is pretty useful.”

He can share his personal experience on various issues with a mentee and he can introduce a mentee to other people with relevant knowledge. This aspect of the mentorship has become more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Difley hopes there will be more opportunities for in-person visits and networking with others in coming months.

The rewarding part of his mentorship role is to see how a mentee succeeds and grows as a result of participating in the CYL program. He also believes this program helps to develop future leaders in the cattle industry.

“I think it's very important, and people like Scott can be tremendous assets as he learns,” Difley said. “He's got a professional background as an engineer and as he gets a good grasp on the cattle business, that's the kind of individual you want in leadership roles.”

The CYL program is meant to be different from traditional mentorship programs. Its goal is to be flexible and to provide participants with an experience that fits their learning needs. For Gerbrandt this has been one of the appeals of the program.

“I don't have a lot of spare time, and so it sounded like a great program, but I didn't want to sign up for something if it was going to be a huge time commitment,” he said. “Essentially the program is what you make it. It's the kind of thing where you get out what you put in.”

CYL applications for the 2021-22 program year are now open. Program applications are available on the CYL website and the submission deadline is March 31. For more information about the program, visit the website at www.cattlemensyoungleaders.com

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