The Ironic Truth – The very thing agriculture is trying to save, is what is leading to its demise.

The writing is now on the wall; agriculture has branded itself out of the labour market. 


When we started Farmer Coach, part of our vision was to not only provide value but also for me to learn as much as possible from the producers. What I didn’t realize was the insight I would gain regarding the major causes of conflict in the industry. I can now undoubtedly say that the number one concern of producers, regardless of acre size, is labour.


During our last Zoom panel with the coaches, about 75% of the topics brought forward were regarding hiring, retention, and communication. This led me to social media to see if it was only the progressive growers that were facing these issues. 


In diving deeper into numerous platforms, I realized one of the reasons that the workforce was not flocking toward primary producer agriculture was that we have told them not to.


Of the majority of producers I see, the lifestyle of agriculture is the main reason they do what they do. The family farm, the beautiful sunsets, the front porch swing, and everything you can find in a country song. The brand of farming has become the lifestyle, and as such, today’s workforce does not see a place in agriculture for themselves


Where is the career progression? 


Where is the passion for a company that they helped build? 


Where is the compensation draw when every post is about how hard it is to make money? 


When did agriculture decide that we could “go it alone”?


When I left public accounting, I bet my life and my family’s life on this not being the trend moving forward. I realize I was joining one of the most progressive and forward-thinking individuals I have ever met, but it was still a leap of faith. Four years later, I am now a minority owner in Hebert Group, sit on the advisory board and leadership team, and am a part of every large decision we make as a team. Again, I reiterate the word “team”, as the industry has not brought this term into the forefront for most producers these days.


Forget About Acres


Time and time again I have heard the excuse that acres determine the need for employees. Acres are an excuse to remain stagnant and not grow in other facets of the business.


When I started in Strategic Coach (an entrepreneur program in Toronto) they had a large focus on 10X’ing your business. For the first year, I thought this was revenue or profit. It actually caused me stress to believe that I needed to grow that large in order to be successful. Now, five years into the program, I understand the true meaning of 10X. It is not a financial measure; it is a human measure. When I left public accounting and took a chance on entrepreneurship, that was a 10X change in my life. A couple of years later I had worked myself back into 60-hour weeks trying to accomplish everything myself. I made my second 10X change: I started delegating the tasks that I was terrible at. 


This freed up a significant amount of time for me to focus on other types of growth and Farmer Coach was born.  I am now working on my third 10X change, delegating the tasks that I am good at. This will prove to be the hardest adaptation of my career but will provide me with freedom of both purpose and time.


None of these required a 10X multiple of money or acres or growth. These changes were built on mindset and quality of life. This is how I view human resources in agriculture. 


If you could hire one person, and allow yourself forty extra hours per week to spend on vision, strategy, or just spending time with your family, would you do it?


The Brand is Wrong


I am going to be direct, stop telling the world that agriculture is a family affair. It puts the industry in a light where there is no room for anybody else to join. This beautiful sentiment, and one that is true at the ownership level, is not the brand that we should be selling to our workforce or future labour market. 


The last time Jeff (HGV’s Chief Operating Officer) and I spoke at Olds College, we knew there was a large disconnect between the farms and the education system. Not one of the Precision Agriculture students had even thought about primary producer agriculture as a future career. Unless your farm was called Bayer, BASF, or some other multinational, we were out of the running. 


The question was why not work for the companies that actually use Precision Agriculture daily? 

The answer was: ‘there’s nothing in it for us’. 


Let that sink in.


The industry that prides itself on wholesomeness, humility, family, and every other positive acumen, is seen as an industry that provides no opportunity for people outside of it. 


We have to stop telling the public that agriculture is only for those with the same last name. We need to start branding farms not as “family”, but as “community”. We need to create career paths, fair compensation, and a place at the leadership table. We need to provide benefits, education, performance feedback, and most importantly roles for them to pursue their passions. 


There are a large number of farms that are moving towards this goal. The problem is only those that have grown in acres see it as a necessity. The solution is that the smaller acre producers need to also realize that good employees provide them with a return on investment.


Stop the Negativity


We as an industry need to start picking others up, not driving them down. 


I have worked with a large variety of producers in both a consulting role and a coaching role. Each one is unique, and I find their stories, goals, and definitions of success fascinating. I have never looked down on an operation no matter the size or progressive nature. For all of us to survive this labour issue, we need to work together to show the industry in a positive light. If I was an outsider looking in, it would take five minutes of scrolling through Twitter to run away from any job in farming.


We need to start acting the way that we are portraying ourselves to the public. There are only a few true people in the industry that I believe still hold onto the value of being neighbourly as an industry. John Kowalchuk (@kowalchukfarms1) is one that comes to mind. He is one of the few guys I follow that never slings mud and always has a positive mindset on the industry. I don’t know him personally, but that is one farm I would gladly send a resume to. The industry needs more producers like this.


I hope others can see the light, because more people entering the primary producer workforce means more success in the future for farming as a whole. We just need to get over the concept and branding of everything as “family farms” and open it up to others who are passionate about agriculture. 


What we did in the past will not work in the future. The value we are trying so desperately to save may end up being our downfall.