Musings from the AgEx (Agricultural Excellence) Conference

For those of you who are regular readers of this commentary, you know full well how I feel about farm shows in general and what it takes to draw crowds. Every major farm show on the prairies is so heavily focused on production, when we are already some of the best, if not THE best producers, in the world. Where we are lacking (generally speaking) is on the management and financial side of the business.

That is why I am such a fan of the Agricultural Excellence (AgEx) Conference. It is 2+ days dedicated exclusively to management. No presentations on crops, weeds, fertilizers or equipment; although, had there been, we would likely have seen 4-5 times the number of attendees. Overheard during networking at AgEx:”Want to get 1,000 farmers in the room? Show them some new equipment, give them a hat and a hotdog…that’s how!” If that rhetoric has more than a grain of truth, it sustains my railing on on the problem we have in the industry.

The title of this year’s AgEx was “Plan and Prosper: Set the Course for Farm Success.” This isn’t a typical preach from the podium event; the format included live debate, panel discussions, bear-pit sessions, and a choice of six concurrent workshops. If you couldn’t attend in person, it was broadcast via webinar.

Here are some of the very high level points made at the conference:

  • As a producer, you sell into a global community. Understand how that affects you (and that means deeper than simple “supply and demand.”)
  • If you expect to remain relevant in an ever changing industry, you must face change with confidence not fight it with vengeance.
  • There is still a large gap to bridge between the generations who farm together.
  • There is a TON of great information, resources, and advice available to you as a producer. All you have to do is ask!

There is much work to do, both on your part as producers and business owners, but also on our part as advisors:

  • We (as an industry) need to collectively come to agreement on how to calculate major financial metrics, such as gross margin.
  • We (as advisors) need to create synergies with all of our clients’ other advisors so as to better service each client.
  • We (as advisors) must elevate and consistently deliver the message that success is defined by management…period.
  • We (as an industry) must support each other to provide a unified front against those who would rather we fail.

From the Home Quarter

It is not difficult to find yourself pumped up and motivated when leaving an event like AgEx. The quality of information and networking available is second to none. I rubbed shoulders with a National Director from one of the largest ag accounting firms in Canada, an international farm advisor, a former diplomat, among others…oh, and I now also have a tour guide on PEI in the form of a young potato farmer!

Excellence is within all of us if we choose to focus on it. If we let fear hold us back, our results will show it (and we shouldn’t be surprised.)

As I will continue to say, “Do what you do best, and get help for the rest.”


3 Circle Model in Transition (Succession) Planning

Twice in the course of a week, I was able to partake in a Canadian Association of Farm Advisors (CAFA) Succession Update following the 3 Circle Model
The three circles represent each of Ownership, Business, and Family: the critical components that hinder any business transition process. I was speaking in the business circle.

Working with family can be as incredibly rewarding as it can be incredibly challenging. The nature of living with those you work with, grew up with, and hang out with, leads itself to challenges just from being in such close continual contact. Throw in the communication challenges that every family must deal with, and it is truly amazing more family businesses don’t fail.

The illustration of the 3 Circle Model is a simple yet accurate depiction of why there can be challenges in family businesses. The root of the challenge, when tapping into the experience of experts who consult family businesses, is the relative inability of family members to separate the three circles. Issues that belong in the “business” circle often end up in the “family” circle; issues in the “ownership” circle often have heavy effects on the “business” circle; issues in the “family” circle usually ripple outward to affect both the “ownership” and “business” circles.

Success in separating the circles can only be had if all family members are conscious and intentional in their effort to recognize the tendency to let issues bleed from one circle to another and proactively manage their behavior to not let it happen. This is easier said than done.

3-circle-with-a-twistI especially like this graphic that Jim Snyder, National Director, Agricultural Practice Development with BDO, used in his opening presentation to describe the 3 Circle Model. When you think about torque, a planetary is a tremendous bit of engineering (a nice plug for all you gearheads.) Separating the three circles in the model creates a strong business and stronger family. A family affected by the crossover of issues between the circles will be in a constant state of damage control.

Direct Questions

How do you separate the issues you deal with in your family business between three distinct circles: family, business, and ownership?

When you become aware of family issues affecting business, or ownership issues affecting family, etc, how do you stop, reset, and refocus to deal with the issue and not let it “creep?”

Family business is the backbone of our nation’s economy. Are you a “family business” or a “business family?”

From the Home Quarter

There is a distinction between a family business and a business family (please contact me to discuss further.) Neither is bad, but there is a difference in mindset and approach to family, business, and ownership. Knowing which type you fall into will help you understand the challenges to be managed as you eventually navigate through the 3 Circle Model of your future business transition. Because, whether you acknowledge it or not, one day your business will need to transition. You might as well be ready for it…

Reinvent yourself _whats next


The Olympics have now come and gone. The excitement and the drama, the anxiety and the relief, have all subsided. Real life makes its triumphant return.

Imagine for a moment what “real life” will now be like for young Penny Oleksiak. At the tender age of 16, she earned a spot on Canada’s Olympic team. In her first Olympics (please note that…her FIRST Olympics) not only did she perform well, she medalled. Not only did she medal, she won 4 medals: 1 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze. Now unofficially dubbed as Canada’s “Best-Ever Summer Olympian,” where does she go from here?

The pressure to be better 4 years from now at the next Olympics will no doubt be tremendous. Will she be expected to win 6 medals? All golds? What?

Imagine for a moment what “real life” is like for a phenom like Connor McDavid. At 19, he’s entering his sophomore season and is no longer a rookie pro-hockey player. According to a Google search, he’ll earn $832,500 US this upcoming season (approximately $1,071,000 Cdn at current exchange rates.) He lives life under a microscope, in the spotlight, and by being a part of the Edmonton Oilers, he is certainly a big fish in a small pond. (Enough metaphors for you?)

The pressure to be better this season, and each season going forward will no doubt be tremendous. Will he be expected to score 30 goals? 40 goals? Eclipse Gretzky’s records? What?

These are examples of two exemplary young Canadians who have worked harder, and overcome more challenges, than almost everyone in order to achieve what they have.
What happens if they can’t follow up to their early success? What if the pressure gets to them? What if they fail to meet expectations? Fear is an incredible demotivator…

Neither of these 2 young athletes will disappoint. Even if their future success is pale in comparison to what they have already achieved to date, no one can take away what they have accomplished before 20 years of age. So what if they have long and successful careers? No matter how you slice it, they will be ready to retire in the next 15-20 years…old hags in their mid-30’s.

While it is easy for us as “regular people” to glorify the thought of retiring from a professional sports career before age 40, living the good life for the rest of our days, it’s just not that easy, nor is it real. While physically my prime is behind me, now in my 40’s I have more to offer, more to contribute, and can make bigger and better change in the world than I could have as a 20-something.  Mine has been an evolution. But for young athletes, it’s a reinvention.

What does someone who was at the peak of their career, and earning power, in their 20’s do once they’ve retired in the 30’s or 40’s? How does one reinvent oneself when one was once at the top of the world? It’s got to be awfully bloody difficult to overcome the mental and emotional hurdles that threaten the efforts of these people to reinvent themselves, to find new purpose, to contribute, to make a difference…

I certainly do not envy them…

You, as a business owner, will hopefully have the opportunity to reinvent yourself. That is to mean that you’ve lived long enough to be able to enjoy retirement! It is not something to fear and loathe, it is something to celebrate and enjoy! Do not bemoan living long; it beats the alternative.

Direct Questions

Life will change, and your ability to adapt is your key to success. How are you planning to reinvent yourself for when the time comes? Who are you looking to for help?

From the Home Quarter

If you’re a farmer getting on in years, and if farming is all you’ve done, then you are likely facing a reinvention in the future. But as a farmer with decades of tenure, at least you are not reinventing yourself during a possible mid-life crisis, like a young athlete who was once on top of the world…



Vision (by guest contributor, Dean Robinson)


The following is provided by a guest contributor, Dean Robinson. Dean is a principal in the firm Redmans, a family business advisory practice in New South Wales, Australia. Dean and I are part of the same community of professionals and became instant friends at a recent event. Dean’s recent blog post, Vision, hits home as it relates to strategy and execution in family business. I hope you enjoy!

– Kim


One of my big criticisms around modern Australian politics is that we no don’t have a clear vision for where Australia is heading as a country. For me, the Hawke, Keating and Howard Governments were all clear on vision. Each government set a future, then trod down the path towards it. Yes, there was some anguish. At times, decisions were made that were unpopular. However, in each of those governments, we had Prime Ministers who saw the bigger picture and understood there would be hiccups along the way. In my opinion, the years since 2007 have been devoid of the big vision.

Which leads me to family business. Unfortunately, too many of them are also unclear on their vision. They unlock the doors each day, take all comers, deal with issues like the Rural Fire Service deals with a bushfire outbreak, then lock it all up at the end of the day, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
In many respects, you can boil this down to three problems:

  1. Lack of a clear business strategy; or,
  2. If there is a business strategy, lack of implementation of it; or,
  3. If there is a business strategy, and it has been implemented, a lack of commitment to it.

A business that lacks a strategy doesn’t know where it is going, an obvious statement I know. However, the number of family businesses that lack a clear and documented business strategy is surprisingly high. This means they’re running all over the place, usually being all things to all people and creating stress for themselves in the process.
If a family business has developed a business strategy, the place where it falls over the most is in the implementation phase. Any client we have worked with on the development of a strategy that says they don’t need our help to implement it has always failed to implement. Without exception. Once the strategy planning day is done, they go back to what they’ve always done, which is generally be reactive. The only thing that works for implementation is accountability. Plenty of school children would not do their homework if they didn’t have to hand it in the next day. The same applies for family business owners.
Finally, if there is a strategy and it has been implemented, any lack of commitment to it from anyone in the management team can de-rail it. Everyone needs to be on board with the direction. If your business strategy is to produce widgets, you gear your factory up to produce more widgets, then find that you’re really not that interested in the widget market after all, you’ve just blown significant resources in the business and potentially taken resources away from parts of the business that work.
My questions to you are:

  1. Do you have a clear strategy for your family business that you can articulate succinctly and with passion?
  2. If you have a strategy, what is your process for implementing it and who is holding you accountable?
  3. If you have a strategy and have implemented it, is anyone undermining the strategy? If so, what are you doing to bring them to account.

This Week’s Tip

Lack of Strategy = lack of direction.
Lack of Direction = business anarchy.
Anarchy – a state of disorder due to absence of non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems (Oxford Dictionary.)



failure to communicate

Critical State – Inability to Communicate

A few weeks ago, we opened a dialogue on Critical State which is defined as “the point at which something triggers a change in the basic nature or character of the object or group,” or to paraphrase: something can be referred to as being in a critical state when at the point of significant change.

Inability to communicate is, in my opinion, the greatest single cause of breakdown in relationships of all types and sorts. While many other factors come into play, and often bear most of the blame, the primary cause is communication and its lack thereof.

There are virtually countless books, courses, and resources dedicated to improving communication in almost any circumstance: marriage, parenthood, employee, co-worker, sibling, etc. etc. I have only read a minute fraction of what is available on this topic, so I cannot offer insight as to which are most beneficial. But, like you, I have a lifetime of experience in communicating with others. It is fair to say that all of my communication experiences could use improvement, because to say otherwise would indicate that there was, at times, perfection in my communication interactions. Let’s be honest, there is always room for improvement.

Here are some of the most important relationships in your business that need solid communication:


Often times, when hearing banker-ese or legalese, we tend to not ask that which we do not know or understand for fear of appearing, well let’s say it, stupid. Many people have signed onto something that they did not want, nor did not understand because they were unable to communicate their questions, their fears, or their outright disagreement. The future ramifications of a lack of clarity in matters of borrowing or of law can be monumental.
When I was still in banking, I had a husband & wife client where the wife would apologize for asking what she called “stupid questions” about the terms and conditions of their borrowing package. She could have silently signed her name to the documents and fretted over her lack of confidence in what she just did, but instead she chose to ask. For her own clarity, her own comfort, and her own peace of mind, she asked. For that, I was grateful; it strengthened our business relationship. When I told them I was leaving the bank, she hugged me saying “I’ve never hugged a banker before!” I replied with a wink, “I’m not REALLY a banker; just a farmer who’s working at the bank!”


Everybody is rowing their own boat in life. It does your business no good whatsoever if your employees are not rowing in the same direction as you. Setting goals and expectations for your team, and sharing the overall business goals with your team can carry significant weight in efforts to get everyone “rowing the same direction.”
I’ve learned about a number of farm businesses that have taken the proactive approach: involve the team in goal planning, provide regular feedback, reward good performance. The most successful farms treat their employees not like employees, but rather like trusted partners who have a vested interest in the success of the business, and communicate with them accordingly.

Family and/or Primary Relationship

I will go on record saying that all “problems” in family and/or primary relationships will trace back to communication. Whether communication be the final straw or not, communication likely led to the behavior that became the final straw.
I was very impressed in meeting a young farmer earlier this year. When he came home to farm a decade or so ago, with his would-be wife, his father made clear with him and his non-farming siblings how the farm would transition. There was no ambiguity; no one could complain; there are no hard feelings today. Consider how things could be today when we acknowledge how successful this farmer now is, and how much wealth he has built in his operation…lack of communication could lead to unreasonable demands from family members, and the potential for critical state.

Direct Questions

Does fear ever affect your communication? How do you manage it?

How would you rate your ability to share positive feedback versus negative?

From the Home Quarter

Lack of communications, or an inability to communicate, will lead to critical state in a sneaky kind of way. If one doesn’t notice that communication is breaking down, over time it will snowball into a major issue. Everybody has a breaking point. It’s usually wise not to let things get that far, not matter which relationship we talk about.


old school farming

Social License and Its Impact on Farming

Last week at our local CAFA chapter meeting was the second time I got to hear a presentation from Shelley Jones. Shelley is the Manager of Agriculture Awareness with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. Her topic, both times, was Social License. Social License is becoming as much of a buzz word in agriculture as it is becoming a major issue not to be ignored. I’ve blogged in the past (a couple years ago now) about how I feel that agriculture is “under attack” from well funded activists and industries whose gain would come at the expense of conventional agriculture. While I hoped that the activism was a fad that might fade away, clearly it hasn’t; we as players in this most remarkable and diverse industry need to understand the impact of social license, recognize our role in the discussion, and enthusiastically take action.

We in agriculture are not alone. The oil & gas industry and the coal industry, among others, are also under attack. Those industries are putting together plans of action to deal with the activism. Sadly, it seems none of us were prepared for this ahead of time, and now feel like we have to “catch up” in getting our message out.

We had a great discussion at CAFA during Shelley’s presentation. Opinions were varied. One in particular suggested that we as farmers need to take that nobility we so proudly hold and check it at the door. The mind set that we “feed the world” and the never-ending gratitude that we are entitled to because of it is actually causing us harm, said this one opinion. His point is well taken: the consumer hasn’t always been our focus because we know we produce safe quality food. We know we farm in the most sustainable manner we can. Isn’t that clear to everyone? Why would the consumer put up any resistance?

What we’ve forgotten, or maybe it is that we just haven’t taken notice, is that our population is no longer ag focused. It was said today in the meeting that “years ago, no one planned any major events in May or late August through October because of seeding and harvest respectively. Now, there is little concern to planning weddings or vacations during those times because fewer people are affected; a wedding on September long weekend might only exclude one family from the long list of guests.” Translation: fewer people are farming.

Of course we know that fewer people are farming today than 10 years ago, than 20 years ago, etc. And while we feel we’ve reacted to that trend by farming more acres and increasing yields, what we haven’t done is anticipated how severe the disconnect between John Q. Public and primary food production actually would become. The average non-farming person has almost no clue where food comes from or how it is grown.

In fact, most still sadly believe:

  • that farmers are overall wearing, pitchfork carrying, laborious people;
  • that the proverbial “little red barn” and an open tractor are normal;
  • that any farm that is bigger than said red barn and open tractor must be a “corporate farm” owned by some large eastern Canadian corporation or a US conglomerate;
  • that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

How did this happen? How did our society swing from a primarily agricultural base to what it is today? Without getting onto a tangent of socio-economic trends, which have been debated feverishly through the 80’s and 90’s, what I’m really asking is “How did such a disconnect come about?”

It comes from taking things for granted for too long. Farmers took for granted that they were trusted, that they produced safe food in a sustainable fashion. Non-farmers took for granted that the food they purchased from their grocery stores was abundant, safe, and cheap. The internet has changed all of that by giving a platform to activists.

I felt so completely naive over the winter when on the agenda at a conference I was attending was a man who’s business it was to lobby the federal government. Wait, lobbyists are for hire? They’re not just people with conviction and a drive to change something they passionately believe in? Nope. You can hire a lobbyist. You can hire a person or firm to grind on the government, get face time in the media, and generally cause a ruckus…all for a fee, of course. These lobbyists, or activitsts as it were, represent their employer, the entity that hired them to promote a specific agenda. Fact, rationale, residual effects begone! These activists don’t need to be in Ottawa, or any provincial capital. They have the internet; where anyone can be a celebrity, spew rants of blatant falsehoods with an abundance of sensationalism to garner enough of a following that uninformed people simply believe that “it must be true.”

Combine this with how it is common among marketers to no longer promote what the consumer wants, but to promote what the consumer doesn’t yet know he wants, and we have a perfect storm. Consider technology and gadgets. Before HD television, did any of us know we wanted a 720p or a 1080p or now a 4K television? I still don’t know what the hell any of those are, but darn it all, the consumer now expects it! Did the electronics manufacturers build a few 4K TVs first to see how they’d sell, or did they go full out into producing 4K TVs and let the marketing look after creating a demand? We all know it is the latter.

Back to farming, we now have well funded activists with a platform that knows no bounds, who are free to generate as many half-truths, cherry-picked facts, and blatant falsehoods as they like in order to advance their agenda. Do they give a rat’s keester about how it affects you, your family, your community, or your industry? Nope. I believe that you or I do not matter to these activists. They don’t care one iota how you farm or if you’re still farming next year. They are only here to stir up a ruckus and gather “followers,” uninformed people who latch on to these revocable fallacies, minions who are intended to carry the momentum that the activists have started. Poor sheeple, if only they knew they were nothing more than pawns in a game.

The danger really comes into focus as the sheeple begin to do the activist’s work for them, shouting their “truth” from the rooftops and gaining more followers and momentum, convincing other people to “vote with their wallet.” I vote with my wallet regularly in how and where I chose to spend my money. We’ve been groomed to live by the old adage that “the customer is always right.” But, what about when they’re not?

Readers who have followed my writing have read it several times and will continue to for a while yet: you don’t know what you don’t know. These consumers don’t know what actually happens on your farm, in your pastures, or in your barns. They get their education from the University of Google where facts are not checked and reality is whatever you want to believe.

Are these activists, and their loyal followers, getting in front of legislators? Yup.

Will they influence future laws and regulations that will affect how you run your business? They might – – they’re sure trying!

Does getting into a fight with any of them online help? Nope.

What “we” can do in this has been well documented already in many different places. Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan is a great place to start: There is also Farm & Foodcare Ontario: Both of these entities are focused on informing the consumer and would benefit from your volunteerism. If you haven’t yet watched License to Farm, do it soon: The list of “to-do’s” for what you can do in this situation does not need any additions from me.

Direct Questions

How would your farm be different if the laws forbade you from using certain (or all) pesticides on your crops, certain (or all) vaccines on your livestock, or mandated how and when you managed your production?

We talk regularly about financial risk in these articles. You consider market & production risk regularly. Currency risk  and interest rate risk will become more dominant in future conversations. How will socio-economic risk affect your farm?

From The Home Quarter

One of the greatest benefits of farming is the independence, the connection with the land, and contributing to society in a way that few others can. For any of us to think that the independence we enjoy, and maybe even take for granted, is safe for us and our future generations is a bit naive. There are major factors at play, any or all of which could affect your future in this dilemma we call social license. You, me, and everyone in the industry can step up and make a positive impact. Or, we can take our way of life for granted and risk getting trampled by a stampede of sheeple.



Shock and Awe During Ag In The Classroom

It’s something I should have done long ago, but finally took the step and volunteered for Ag in the Classroom. Considering the rapid disconnect that non-farming people have from their farming roots, which is typically as many as 2 or 3 generations now past, we as passionate AGvocates must do our share (and more) to help bridge the gap, both the knowledge and culture gap, so that we all can achieve a greater understanding of each other.

My experience took me to 2 classrooms: Mrs Ewart-Molesky’s grade3/4 class at Grant Road School in Regina, and Mrs McMurtry’s grade 3 class at Jack Mackenzie School also in Regina. I was not surprised to learn that none of these children lived on a farm; the closest any of them came was one child in each class whose grandparents still farm.  What did surprise me was how many of these youngsters had never been to a farm. That reinforced my perception of just how far removed these young people are from agriculture.

Part of the program was for me to read the children an ag based story. The book that was provided to me by the Ag in the Classroom program was titled What’s Growing Around Us. The story journeyed through the experience of a school aged girl whose mother took her to several different locations to learn about where food really comes from as part of her own school homework. The children listening to me read this story were fascinated by how many products from their daily lives, products beyond food, are derived or partly derived from agriculture.

I took the liberty to give these children some perspective on just how much Canadian farmers can produce. I used real life examples of how big a field can be, how big an acre is, and just how much can be produced on that acre in terms that these children could understand. The “shock and awe” from these students at the number of loaves of bread that can be produced from one acre of wheat was quite entertaining.

I closed my presentation to these students by taking some more liberty. I found some pictures online that I used to clearly illustrate what a farm is today versus what is a stereotypical view of a farm. The faded red barn, open tractor,  handful of cattle, and a farmer in overalls is what the stereotype is, and as I expected, it is what the children gravitated to. The pictures I shared with these students of modern grain farms and equipment brought more “shock and awe.” Some of what I shared with them that day included an aerial view of a modern farm yard, complete with a grain leg, several large shops, and a large modern home; the inside of a tractor cab with all the monitors and controllers needed during seeding; and a drone (which was the REAL wow factor.) I explained that while they see the drone as a super-cool toy, farmers use the drone as a highly efficient tool for checking crops, livestock, etc.

I left no doubt in their minds that farming is very technologically advanced, probably more so than their homes, entertainment systems, and video game consoles combined. I felt it was incredibly important to stress that the perceptions of what is a farm have changed, and will continue to change.

Direct Questions

With farming practices and food production garnering more attention and press than ever before, what are you doing to share the positive message about agriculture?

How are you managing your operational practices against the message that we deliver to non-farming people to ensure that what we say and what we do are consistent?

What are you doing to be an agriculture advocate (or as we prefer to say, “agvocate?”)

From the Home Quarter

While I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering for Ag In The Classroom, it came and went very quickly. I will certainly make myself available to visit more schools and educate more children in the future. It was a very rewarding experience.

What I would like to do at some point is speak to a class of high-schoolers, young minds that are forming their own opinions on issues of the day whether influence comes from the media, at home, or their teachers, in an effort to challenge them on any misconceptions about agriculture. The Grade 3’s were hanging on every word I said, and soaked up the message like a sponge. The older kids will hopefully want to “get into it” a little bit where we could ideally have an open and respectful dialogue.

Can you tell I enjoy a good argument?


Experience: LEAP – – Leadership, Engagement, Authenticity, Passion

Leap year only comes around every 4 years, so to some people, it’s kind of a big deal; to others, not so much. I will have spent the 2016 leap day by taking part in a unique event, Experience: LEAP.

Experience: LEAP is an initiative of the wonderful people behind Project: SHINE Inc. Their passion is for everyone to live the fullest life possible, to be their true self, and to experience life with passion and purpose. The key message is for everyone to learn that where you are is not where you have to stay. The message applies to us personally, but also has business implications.

In the case of this event, LEAP is an acronym as follows:


Leaders are made, they are not born. While some people are born with the characteristics that are often found in great leaders, the fact is leadership skills are learned, and therefore, leaders are made. This has 2 different aspects that apply to your farm:

  1. You are the current leader of your operation.
  2. You need to identify and develop a leader to take your place for when you’re no longer leading the business.

We often learn from experience, or learn from others’ examples, but rarely do farm business owners ever get sat down and taught how to be an effective leader. Everyone in your business will perform in direct correlation to their response to the leadership of the organization. It is like the old saying, “Would you rather be in an army of lions led into battle by a sheep, or be in an army of sheep led into battle by a lion?” If you find yourself questioning the effectiveness of your employee(s), first gauge your effectiveness as a leader.

As a leader, you need clarity in the results you expect in your business, the strategy for achieving those results, and the tactics in execution of the plan. Naturally, sharing this information with your team is critically important in effective leadership.


One cannot expect to build a profitable business or an effective team without being engaged. A person who is disconnected and unattached will achieve sub-par results, and find the same in their team. How does one become more engaged? What can be done to increase the engagement of a team? By and large, it begins with purpose. Clarifying the “why,” which means “why are we here; why do we do what we do; why are we the best people for the job?” Clarifying purpose by answering the “why” helps teams, and individuals, recognize that they are a part of something bigger and that they have a key role to play in the organization. By turning a basic employee, a laborer per se, into an engaged and contributing member of a highly functioning team will pay dividends to your business that may astound you.


To be authentic is to be real or genuine. This involves interactions with your staff, your business partners, your family, your vendors, but most importantly with yourself.
I find it curious that authenticity is required for true engagement, which is required for effective leadership. Passion affects everything.


Passion can be difficult to describe because it is a feeling like few others. Passion can consume you, drive you to heights never imagined, and lead to immeasurable levels of joy or even anxiety. Passion can often create infallible commitment, which, if not balanced with sound rationale in decision making has potential to lead to undesirable outcomes. Unbridled passion sounds poetic and profound, but it can be dangerous if not balanced with reason and objectivity.
Yet, life (or business) with no passion becomes an insufferable task to endure. Most farmers I meet are passionate about their farm, about the land, about growing things, about the family legacy they are living and plan to leave behind. “Life becomes work” if there is no passion. But don’t forget balance, because “work can become life” on the opposite end of that spectrum; neither is desirable.

Direct Questions

How are you gauging the effectiveness of your leadership? (HINT: this isn’t a “self-assessment.”)

What are you doing to match your engagement to that of which you expect from your team?

How would you describe your passion?

From the Home Quarter

Recently, I listened to a presentation where the crowd was polled: If you could sell all your land for 25% above market value today, and rent it back for life at half of current rental rates, how many would take that deal? No one raised their hand. The presenter then acknowledged that no one in the crowd was a farmer, but actually a land owner. Everyone laughed in subtle agreement.
The point is to define your passion, your “Why.” Clarity in what you do, why you do it, and how you do it is no longer something that only applies to large corporations who need that “feel-good mumbo-jumbo” as part of their strategy. Make no mistake, farms of the future will require processes that were once foreign, or only found in corporate cultures. The need for social license becomes greater each day. The need for strong and committed teams becomes greater each year. The need for passionate, authentic, engaged leadership becomes greater with each new generation in the family business.


Managed Risk – Part 5: Inaction

While there could be many more “parts” to the list of topics that would fall under “Managed Risk,” I’ll
end it this week with one that I believe many people, maybe all people, face each day.
The list of reasons (excuses) we provide to support our decision not to act is virtually endless. They can
be found in the 7 Deadly Sins (pride, envy, sloth) or in almost any self-help book (communication issues,
inequality, stress) or even from psychological therapy (apathy, self-esteem issues, narcissism.)
Here are a few of the most monumental farm issues that are affected by inaction:

Business Structure

I recently took a call from a young man looking for guidance on how to manage the complexity of his
current farm arrangement. He farms with his dad and his brother; all three men have their own
corporation and their own land; one brother farms full time with the dad, the other is part time with offfarm
work. Tracking financial contributions and division of labor are a nightmare, and yet both look like
a cakewalk compared to managing “whose inventory is whose?” They are not happy with the increased
efforts needed to deal with these issues, they all know that there is likely a better way, but no one has
taken a step until the day I spoke with one of the brothers.

In this case, the inaction stems from unawareness: none of the men involved in this family farm had the
knowledge of what, if any, options were available, what questions to ask, or who to even ask for help.
It’s also common for inaction to stem from fear – fear of appearing incompetent by asking a “dumb
question,” fear of making the wrong decision, fear of rocking the boat and hurting the family dynamic.

Family Issues

Family issues challenge most intergenerational farms. There are many varieties, and most are worthy of
a book being written on the topic. Elaine Froese wrote Farming’s In-Law Factor. There should be books
written on “How to Fire Your Father” and “Decoding Motivation: How to Translate Boomers, Gen X’ers,
and Millennials.” If only…

The most common reason for inaction on family issues is “I don’t want to blow up the farm.” The
problem is that inaction can blow up the farm with greater odds than if action was taken! Unless the
family member you’re dealing with has truly sinister motivations, the likelihood of a successful dialogue
is quite positive. No one wants to destroy the farm or the family, so with the appropriate approach,
success can be had. The inaction for family issues predominantly stems from fear. Coaching is available
to help families deal with these types of issues.


Considering the average age of a Canadian prairie farmer today, the volume of farm transitions to take
place over the next 10 years is staggering. The cumulative value of assets that will change ownership
would dwarf the GDP of some small nations. With so much at stake, why does every farm not have a
succession plan already in place (or at least in progress?)
Inaction on this front increases the risk of the following:

  • Future family fighting
  • Colossal tax obligations
  • Destroy the farm business
  • Your legacy lost

Excuses (reasons) for inaction here are unacceptable. It is nothing short of reckless and irresponsible to
leave undone a function with such enormous impact. There is no shame in not having all the answers, or
any answers for that matter. Farm transition is a process, not a result. The process becomes a path of
discovery, but if you insist on keeping your blinders on, don’t be surprised to one day deal with any or all
of the 4 bullet points above.

Direct Questions

What is your main reason for inaction? “No Time” is an excuse. “Fear” is a real reason, but only you can
conquer it.

What have your accountant and lawyer provided you for advice regarding your future transfer (sale) of

In a family business, inaction increases the probability of irreparable family dysfunction. What is getting
higher priority: family harmony or fear of perceived conflict?

From the Home Quarter

What must happen to make an issue a priority? Is it an immediate tangible loss/damage, like an
equipment breakdown in season? Is it emotional goal, like a new pickup truck? Is it perceived (assumed)
risk, like assuming your employee will quit unless he’s granted a wage increase?

Making an issue a priority is the best way to beat the risk of inaction. The fear of the perceived
outcomes or the fear of not knowing how to proceed gives us permission to keep urgent issues down
low on the priority list. But at what point does reality and rational reasoning take over so that we
recognize that the risk of inaction has more negative potential than that of any perceived outcome?
In retrospect, “inaction” is not so much a managed risk, but an unmanaged risk. Managing our
“inaction” actually reduces, or even eliminates, the risk.

If you struggle with inaction…
For a no charge consultation on where you are best to replace “fear” with “priority,” please call or email
me anytime.


Work-Life Balance is a Work-In-Progress

Greetings from Katepwa Lake Saskatchewan!

For the first time in 5 years, I am taking a summer vacation. And while it is cloudy and dreary here today,
we have a nice place to stay, a boat for when the sun does shine, a beach and a golf course that are each
walking distance away…even with this one day of rain, today will be a good day.

Clearly I have not done a good job of work-life balance. Ever since I embarked into the world of
entrepreneurship as my main occupation combined with my farming activities, vacation time in the
summer has been non-existent. I have never been big on vacations because as a kid we never really
went anywhere…no matter where we went dad had to get home every night! As an adult, I have found
an appreciation for vacations despite how one must work twice as hard the week before leaving so as to
be ready to go, and twice as hard again the week after returning to catch up on the work left behind
while away. It can be easy to think “Why bother?”

Sure, why bother? You begin your vacation beat-dog-tired because you’ve probably just completed a
busy season (likely fungicide) and then work like crazy to get everything in place so you can be away.
Then it’s time to pack; in some families, this can lead to divorce! Finally, you’re ready to leave…relief!
Except you now have __ hours of travel ahead of you. Oh the joy!

Between the traffic, the heat, the screaming kids, and your exhaustion, you’re having the time of your

The thoughts that we can allow ourselves to have as described above can be a great reason for those of
us who just love to work to simply not take a vacation. And whether or not you feel you need a vacation
yourself, you must to remember that it’s called “work-life balance” and that your work & your life are
about more than only you!

Direct Questions

When is the last time you took a vacation? Were you really able to get away, or were you constantly
distracted by the goings on at home?

Do you recognize that you taking a vacation is as much, or more, about family time and reconnecting
with your spouse and kids than it is about time off work for you?

Is your work-life balance out of balance? As much as you think you can answer that question, get
feedback from your family to understand the true picture.

From the Home Quarter

Today is my daughter’s 3rd Birthday, and even though it’s raining today, we’re at the lake with family
joining us and it’s going to be a great day! The sun will shine tomorrow, and if it doesn’t, we’ll be ok. The
kids don’t care where we are (at least not at their current age) and my wife is happy to be away from
“home” and all reminders of regular life. I think about work now and then, but I’ve done a good job at
keeping the phone in my pocket. I could learn to enjoy this “vacation” thing. I think I might try it again

If you’d like help planning your farm for business and personal success, then call me or send an email