“It’s where the donkey died”, probably my favourite descriptive of the original farming homesteads across Western Canada.
Growing up in agriculture, I have the same stories as most of you. Sleeping behind the seat of the combine cab blocking the grain tank window or riding the undersized tractor seat beside my father with the arm rest digging into my back. These are things that I won’t forget from my childhood, although I did have to phone my father to make sure which combine it was that had the ledge I mentioned. Even more interesting, he knew the make, model, and year of that machine. Funny what you remember as you get older.
As each generation passes, I find that legacy and dreams start to change. What our grandparents felt was important isn’t what we typically prioritize in our daily lives… So, the question I pose is, how is the new generation in agriculture cementing their legacy?
The First Generation
For many of us ageing at a rapid pace, and no I am not going to say my age as it tends to make me “cry” these days, we remember our grandparents as the first or second generation. They either started the homestead or were at least alive to help when it was created. This I usually refer to as the “dirt under the fingernails” generation. Horses and thrashing machines, zero technology, and long-drawn-out days in the sun. When I look at what we take for granted today, this is often where my thoughts go.
They were proud of what they started, and they measured their success by how much work they accomplished in a day. There are many times that I feel today’s generations (my own included) would be better off if we had to grow up in some of these conditions. I think it would make us prouder of our accomplishments.
I also believe this was the most family-oriented generation. They built farms with manpower, not equipment, and this required numerous family members working together in a common goal. I still listen to my parents tell me of how they used to spend their weekends as a family listening to my great-grandparents playing all types of instruments. Today, my iPhone seems to suffice.
The Next Generation
To me, this was my father’s generation. Although established, the farm made significant strides during this generation from a quarter of land to upwards of 3,000 to 4,000 acres on many operations. For those that are following, that is not only industry consolidation, but it is 10X’ing the business. Today, on many operations this would be impossible with the amount of capital and labour required. Back then, it was farming.
For me, this generation saw agriculture in terms of equipment and growth. Now, don’t get me wrong, we are seeing unprecedented growth in acres on many operations today as well. But going back, 160 acres to 3,000 is almost 20X as large; 3,000 to 20,000 is only 6X. In terms of actual growth, they expanded agriculture operations much more quickly than is possible today.
They were also the first generation to see the rise of manufacturing and equipment. I still remember my grandfather’s 750 Massey combine and the day that we went together with my extended family and traded three combines for one. And let’s not forget going from disc drills and Morris cultivators to no-till and air seeders. This generation watched horses turn into horsepower, and that is something that our generation will not have the privilege of experiencing.
My last comment on this generation is that they also had their fair share of hardships. I can remember years where I know our farm was close to not paying the bills. Not to age myself, but even when I started farming, I could rent land for the property taxes. Those days don’t exist anymore, whether that is good or bad is yet to be seen based on the current state of agriculture.
So, What Now?
The existential question, what will our generation be remembered for?
In my opinion (and trust me, as an accountant I am biassed), our generation will be remembered for bringing business to agriculture. Until land investments started compounding over the last couple decades, agriculture was not in a position where it could be treated as a business. Now, the operations are multi-million-dollar enterprises that look more like companies, and less like farmhouses, coveralls, and pitchforks.
Whether this is good or bad, you can form your own opinion. For me, this is necessary. When we started Farmer Coach I worried about whether the industry was ready to make the steps towards strategy and entrepreneurship. I had seen it firsthand in other industries, but as we all like to say, “agriculture is different”. I can now whole-heartedly say I disagree. Agriculture is not different, it just needed to catch-up with the times.
I am seeing the coming generations be more proactive on business than ours even was. Our youngest member in Farmer Coach this year was 17, and I laugh but to me he was closer to 40. The mindset in the industry is shifting towards the business acumen of producers, and away from the “boots on the ground” and “dirt under the fingers” as our grandparents had. Whether it is being forced by technology or land values or cost of production is not clear, just know that it is happening, and you are either in it or behind it.
In closing, our core focus at Hebert Group states that we “solve agriculture’s puzzles”. We chose this in 2019 as we believe that we are different from most and to be fair, we spend a lot of time trying to fix industry problems. I believe that our generation is just another puzzle piece, and in the end, there are a lot of pieces in this puzzle to go.