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There’s more to farming than just food

The days when farmers anonymously ship their crops or livestock to a large food corporation are numbered, and the business of farming is evolving from simply crop or livestock management to a full spectrum of business operations, according to Liz Samis, leader of the ‘Growing Your Farm Profits’ workshop to be held in Linwood this month.

“A lot of people think that farming is an easy business or that it doesn’t take much skill, but they don’t realize that each farm is its own small or large business,” said Samis. “Farmers who want to be profitable should be thinking about things like marketing, financial management and all those things that business owners have to be on top of.”

Growing Your Farm Profits is a two-day workshop, delivered by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, designed to guide participating farmers through a self-assessment of their operation and help them to develop action plans that are unique to their individual farm. Succession planning, costs of production, financial planning and value-added opportunities are the most emphasized areas of focus for the workshop.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY Liz Samis, who runs a cropping operation near Drayton along with her husband, will be leading the ‘Growing Your Farm Profits’ workshop in Linwood Nov. 16 and 23. Designed to help farmers with the business aspects of their operations, it's organized by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.

Succession planning, said Samis, is a term that is often uncomfortable for farmers to discuss as they imagine it to mean the loss of their farm and home. Through a goal-setting exercise, however, participants are managing to see succession planning as a strategic way to move towards their target financial achievements and plan for a successful business once they are no longer able to manage the farm.

“Goal-setting is a great exercise for farmers to do because oftentimes we get so busy farming that the business takes over and we don’t really step back from it and say ‘Where are we going here? How are we doing?’” said Samis, who operates a cropping operation with her husband near Drayton, growing wheat, soy beans and corn.

“This is very good for farms who are thinking about bringing in the next generation.”

Additionally, the workshop helps to identify business strengths in areas including marketing, human resources, social responsibility, business structure and business strategy.

“It’s funny to think of family farms having to sort out things like human resources but it is a really helpful exercise to do,” she explained. “By laying out job expectations and work environment practices, it can help to reduce conflict. Oftentimes in families we are expected to read minds, which doesn’t work so well in business.”

Due to the increased interest in local food, consumers are seeking out information about the farmers who produce the food on their table – they want to know about the social and environmental practices of each farm.

“A lot of people are doing direct marketing these days on their farms; they’re marketing directly from the farmers to the consumers,” she noted. “Today’s consumers want to know that as trusted individuals, we are producing safe food, and that we are doing it in environmentally friendly ways. It’s important to know how to convey that message and marketing skills are very important.”

Samis has worked with hundreds of farmers across Ontario since the program was launched, using her more than 30 years in agriculture to provide real-life examples of each topic they cover.

“I am not a business expert, I am a fellow farmer,” she said. “I wouldn’t do this workshop if I didn’t believe in it. I think the biggest thing that I want to happen is for farm families to be talking and communicating. That is so important.”

The sessions are open to anyone who is interested in farm management and each workshop averages around 20 participants.

“I have had people who have three acres of land and those who have really big farms and they learn from each other. There is a lot of wisdom in the room and a lot of life experiences so it’s a very neat opportunity.”

The sessions will be held in Linwood on Nov. 16 and 23. The workshop is available free of charge. To register, contact Samis at 519-638-3268 or lsamis@ontariosoilcrop.org.

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