From France to Saskatchewan: How farmers around the world learn from one another
Christophe Parant has big goals for his two farming enterprises. He owns a 2,000 acre family farm in the French countryside that he runs with his wife and his cousin. He also co-owns a larger 6,000 acre rental farm in the Ukraine where they grow corn, soybeans, sunflower, rapeseed and wheat.
With high commodity prices in France and low commodity prices in Ukraine because of the ongoing war, this year is going to be a balancing act when it comes to finances. Budgeting and planning will be key for the success of both of his operations in 2023 and beyond.
For years Christophe has followed Hebert Grain Ventures’ president, Kristjan Hebert, enjoying his tweets, blogs and speaking engagements. When he learned that Kristjan and his business partner, Evan Shout, launched Farmer Coach, he knew he needed to make the trip to Saskatoon.
In the fall, at the inaugural session of Farmer Coach, Christophe eagerly joined discussions despite being self conscious of his English skills.
“I very much enjoyed Farmer Coach and meeting the other farmers,” says Christophe. “We looked at where we want to be in 10 years and then once we know that, we further broke it down into where we want to be in three years and then one year. It is not common in France to speak about farming in this way. People don’t talk about this publicly, they are very discreet.”
It’s not only France; farmers everywhere can sometimes be reluctant to share information or “benchmark” their farm against others. Our philosophy at Farmer Coach is that you can’t know how well you’re doing unless you measure yourself against others.
“It is not often that you get a producer that is as driven towards success and growth as Christophe; he truly buys into the model of continuous education and experience and it shows with his willingness to not only share but to ask questions and learn the different methods of agriculture between the three countries. I also know that we were not his only stop as he ventured further into the US to meet with other industry groups that he felt could further his farming enterprise,” says Evan Shout, co-founder and lead coach.
Christophe shared with the cohort how farming is quite different in Europe. He believes the French government wants farms to stay small “to not disturb the countryside, way of life and keep the ecology intact.” Otherwise, France is an “easy’ place to farm with good weather, agronomy, government subsidies and no major risks.
In Ukraine, he says there’s huge growth potential but also bigger climate and political risks and no government subsidies. “If we’re good farmers and run the business properly, we can move and we can grow.”
In France, Christophe can sell wheat for $300 Euros per tonne vs $150 Euro per tonne for the same crop in Ukraine. The ongoing war in Ukraine is restricting exports, leaving a glut in the market making Ukrainian grain less valuable. When he first started farming in Ukraine, he needed to spend $1,000 US per hectare in machinery, rental contract, storage buildings, etc. to make a profit.
“We need to grow to stay competitive. If we have good management and don’t spend too much money, just enough to grow the crop and not much more, don’t invest too much into machinery, it is possible to have a profitable farm in Ukraine.”
At Farmer Coach, Christophe enjoyed the sessions focused on Human Resources, Working Capital and Cash Flow.
One of his biggest takeaways is to think of labour as an investment and not a cost.
With goals of growing both of his farms in France and Ukraine, he knows he needs to learn how to better manage people and make his farm an attractive place to work. Similar to Canada, farm employment in France is dropping and it’s difficult to attract young people as labourers.
“In Canada, I believe farmers are good managers.”
He says Farmer Coach also helped him analyze his finances and cost of production which will help him determine what crops to grow this year.
“In Ukraine, we won’t grow corn because it is too expensive, we don’t have the money to buy nitrogen. So, we will only plant soybean and sunflowers and we won’t invest in new machinery. We need to do this; we need to make these decisions or we will lose the farm within one year.”
“One or two years will be difficult, but the future will be good,” says Christophe.
Christophe says coming to Canada for Farmer Coach was a great investment of his time and money and he’s looking forward to coming back for the follow-up sessions this spring and summer.
He says programs like Farmer Coach don’t exist in France, but believes one day, they will.
“People who farm in France are generally older. We have trouble getting people to work on farms and fewer people want to farm because the government keeps them small. In the future, I believe we will move from family farms to industry farms to survive.”
“Farming is not difficult, but trying to plan for the future is difficult because we don’t know what is going to happen. Big events, like the war, means we have to keep learning how to make good decisions.”