Farming and Tim Hortons – Is primary producer agriculture one big franchise? Should it be?

At our last leadership meeting at Hebert Grain Ventures, the question was posed – “Is every year the same in farming, and if so, can we create a 52-week calendar of operations?” 


Okay, don’t stop reading yet. Hear me out. At Tim Hortons, they have a process for everything. Every Tim Hortons in Canada is the same. If you buy a franchise, the building must look the same, the assembly line must be identical, and the menu must be the same. This is called optimization of operations. When you buy a franchise, you are also buying into internal processes and a brand.


In farming, are we any different? Broken down into the simplest of process lists:


  • We plant the crop.
  • We spray the crop.
  • We harvest the crop.


Now, this is overlooking hundreds of steps intertwined into these main processes, but in Layman’s terms, this is the “meat and potatoes.” Yes, weather will dictate the start and end dates of all these functions, but at HGV we know that our goals are 21 days for seeding and 40 days for harvest. These simple parameters do not change, and we build our capital and logistics plan around achieving these metrics. Otherwise, we lose heat units, growing days, and all other key performance indicators that we have identified over the last decade of doing this same thing, year in and year out.


So again, this begs the question, can you franchise a farm? 


When we started the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) process back in 2019, one of the key factors was the creation of strategic operating procedures. From maintenance on a piece of machinery to entering bookkeeping into our accounting software, every task performed by our team needed to be duplicated once we found the most efficient and optimized manner to complete it. This has allowed us to create hundreds of key processes with videos, templates, checklists, and other resources to ensure that we are performing our jobs in the best and most efficient manner. When you start at HGV, you do not start blind. You have access to all the task management processes that we have perfected over the years. This is as close to a franchise mentality as we can come.


Now, the second question is, can you brand a farm the same way you would brand a conglomerate? If you asked me this six months ago, my answer would have been no. We are a single player in an industry that is decades behind other retail and service-based businesses that market directly to clients. Most farmers don’t believe that they market to customers, they just know they sell their grain to the elevator or business that offers the best price and highest level of service. Why would we need to brand ourselves as primary producers when grain buyers come to us? Let me explain.


I wholeheartedly believe that every farm should have a brand. In fact, it is high on my list of the top five things that farms need to invest in moving into the next generation of operators. A strong brand ties into your human resources (hiring, recruiting, training), your networking (peer groups, industry boards, retail relationships), and perhaps most importantly, it ties into your reputation. If your brand is one that works well with others, you will be sought after by those that want your business. Likewise, if you treat partner organizations poorly, you are unlikely to succeed moving forward, as you are just a small fish in the large pond that is the agriculture industry. As the consolidation of our industry continues, ‘bigger’ becomes a relative term when it comes to power or influence.


So, do I feel like farming will move to a franchise model tomorrow? No. Do I believe that it is possible and almost probable with proper business procedures and structures? Yes. If you can create a sound business at home using your own processes for success, why can’t we replicate this in other contexts? 


So, if the main barriers to entering the field of agriculture are typically capital, costs, and equity, would the franchise model not be a viable solution for the future of young farmers? Live the American dream.