What is your unique ability as a farm – Can primary producers differentiate from their neighbours?

Unique Ability – The set of natural talents you’re already amazing at, that give you energy, and that you love doing.


I have an interesting concept for you: How do you look at the farm across the gravel road from you? Are they your neighbours, are they your friends or family, or are they your competitors? 


Depending on how you run your operation and how you see business, answers may differ on this one. But for today’s reading material, let’s define them as your “competitors”. 


With entrepreneurship, the focus should be on their innate unique ability (Strategic Coach). I have spent the last five years becoming immersed in this as I attend executive coaching, and I have now tried to impart this to the participants in our Farmer Coach programs. 


Every farmer has a talent or something that they love doing. Your job is to make sure that you spend a large portion of your time in that ability. If you can do that, not only will you be more successful, but you will also have more enjoyment and a fulfilled life. If you cannot identify this, maybe you are in the wrong business.


Internally, we practise what we preach. All of our employees are provided with the ability to identify their A, B, and C tasks. These are what they like doing or are good at, what they are okay doing and are decent at, and what they hate doing or are not good at. By allowing them to tell us their strengths and likes it removes the need for assumptions as leaders and managers. It also provides us with the ability to make sure they are in the 80/20 of what they like doing versus don’t like doing.


It wasn’t until lately that I started thinking about this concept on a larger scale. The fact is, we run multiple companies with multiple business lines, and I have trouble identifying each day what we actually do. 


Don’t get me wrong, I know what products and services we provide, but what as a business will we be remembered for or known for in an industry as large as agriculture? I pray that it is not “really good number crunching.”. 


To remain competitive and as industry leaders, I believe that we all must have a unique ability as a company or a farm. So, when your neighbours drive by your farmyard, what do they say?


I once had a farmer tell me, “They don’t need to like me, but when they talk about me, I want them to tell people I am the best farmer in the area”. I always thought this was interesting, especially now that the industry has a large problem with consolidation and the growing acres of some of the larger operations. Even now in our enterprise, we know we have individuals that don’t agree with what we are doing, but we also have supporters in our corner. 


You can’t please everyone, so why even try, or care?


While attending TEPAP, they also had a concept much like this. Their discussion was what is your “strategy” as an operation. Many businesses have a focus on making money. The three they listed were low-cost, quality product, or client relationships. I found this interesting as I had seen this in multiple other industries in my experience, but never in the terminology of a family farm. They identified that you cannot be the best in all arenas, so you need to identify your strategy and allocate your resources towards that goal.


At Hebert Group, we are far from low cost. Don’t get me wrong, we continuously try to improve upon our cost structures but with the numerous opportunities that arise every year it would be a far-reaching philosophy to say that we were focused on being the lowest-cost producer in the area. This would probably conflict with our core value of growth mentality at times depending on the equipment multiples or cost of expansion. Lastly, I wouldn’t want to play in this arena as I believe this also stifles growth and creates ceilings that I am not interested in creating.


What about quality products? Although every farmer would like to boast that they grow the best grain, the fact is rarely true. Unless you are dealing in pedigreed seed, niche markets, or other diversified value-add operations. It is hard to argue that you grow better quality grains than your competitors (or neighbours). At HGV, I would say our focus is on quantity just as much as quality most years, so outside of some sustainability planning we are trying to accomplish with our purchasers, the product variance is nominal.


For us, our strategy would be our relationships. Whether it be landlords, industry, government, or other organizations that we work closely with, our successes and opportunities are due to the networks we keep. I don’t think this probably shocks anybody reading, but for the first time this spring, I wrote it down on paper. “Our biggest opportunity is collaborations and networks”. Once it becomes clear, it makes a lot more sense why my business partner believed a public relations collaboration was important and spends numerous days per year on commercial flights to meet with our networks. As they identified, you put your resources where they should go.


So, in the end, I told you our unique ability as an operation. Our niche is identified as “solving agriculture’s puzzles”, but I believe our ability is based on people and networks. Even something as simple as our team at Hebert Group, the people we have are the reason we are successful. So, what is your unique as a farm and are you putting your resources into that strategy every day? If you aren’t, what makes you more special than your neighbour? Or your competitor?