A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed – Are business relationships in agriculture hanging by a thread?

This will age me, but I remember a time before caller ID. It was a beautiful time, when people had to answer the phone out of curiosity, and they were much nicer in case it was their boss on the other end of the line. I miss those days. 


I just finished reading an article on how the accounting profession is going through large labour shortages. I don’t want to pick on my old career because frankly, they are not alone in this fight. Have you tried calling your banker lately? Your lawyer? It seems the only people that pick up anymore are the equipment dealers and I keep pleading with clients to stop phoning them.


Are business relationships in agriculture hanging by a thread?


According to X (formerly Twitter), the relationship between producers is stronger than ever. Whether it be through farm shows, peer groups, education sessions, or other areas of focus, it appears that farms are slowly transitioning away from the individualism they once strived to protect. This to me is a large positive in the industry, as we are losing many strong advisors and educators, we need to rely on each other for the industry to be competitive and succeed.


On the other hand, I believe that the professional advisors in agriculture are in trouble (myself included). I have spent the last two years of Farmer Coach advising producers that they are going to need to get more competitive on the human resource front. I believe I used the word “headhunting”. 


Well, this has come back to bite me. I am now watching many of the business relationships I once had in the industry move into the producer sector, leaving large holes elsewhere. Good job producers, bad job Evan.


Have you tried getting financing from a bank lately? I am not picking on any suppliers, but this industry is being decimated right now. To be fair I don’t know the pay scale in client relationship banking, but based on the amount of exits lately, I am assuming it is not enough. 


We used to be able to identify those banks to send our clients to that were highly client-focused and would be ahead of the rest on terms and conditions. Now, we pick out the competitive ones on terms and let the producers interview to determine their “poison”. This is not a place I like to be in as relationships are what we built our business on.


Now, back to accountants. Either a lot of phone numbers have changed in the industry, or I must have annoyed the wrong people. The number one complaint these days from my clients is a lack of relationship. 


The days of choosing based on services and knowledge are diminishing as most farmers just want somebody to talk to. The industry is pushing them towards autonomy (submitting their books online, online bookkeeping, not talking to an actual person). We are in an industry where relationships still matter. I would probably change my way of thinking if I were a young accountant trying to build a book. 


But I believe that demand is currently outweighing supply due to labour shortages, so people have just become a commodity. I am not trying to call out my own profession, just highlighting a new problem that has arisen since the pandemic. 


I hate giving salesmen a pass, but they seem to have survived the pandemic better than the rest. Don’t get me wrong, being commissioned-based helps. However, when I request information or need a change in the quote it takes minutes, not days for a reply. And based on the current demand for equipment, I would say they are no different than other professionals when it comes to economics. There are not a lot of salesmen per farm in Canada, but they still seem to service better than other industries. 


How do we tie something that we are regulated on and require (financial statements, lending) back to client service?


In the end, this may fall on deaf ears, or at the very least annoy some of my professional counterparts. To be upfront, I also let calls go to voicemail (more likely after hours but not always). The difference is that I know this is a bad business practice, whereas I believe that other professions see this as normal. So, if artificial intelligence is at our door, and relationships are no longer relevant, who wants to be the one to tell the farmer? 


Not me.