Going Beyond the Fields and Barns with Best Practices

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Conservationist Garrett Duyck and David Brewer examine a soil sample on the Emerson Dell farm near The Dalles, OR. USDA NRCS photo by Ron Nichols, CC 2.0.

We often speak of best practices in agriculture as they relate to decisions made in the field or in the barn, but they go beyond that, to the office, to the meeting room, and even to interactions with the public.

In his presentation at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference, Marty Seymour, director of industry and stakeholder relations with Farm Credit Canada, focused on ways farm and ranch employers can: motivate and manage employees, manage risks and speak up about the industry.

Retaining Labour:

In the above interview with RealAgriculture’s Debra Murphy, Seymour says that while the grain industry tends to employ a little over 3 people per operation, on average, cattle ranches will employ a little over 2, but are likely to employ family.

“I think one of the misses of our industry is we don’t look to family and treat them in the same way we might a third-party labour person,” he says, “and I think there’s an opportunity there to start to recognize some habits, some things that people want out of their employment situation…”

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Seymour says there’s been a huge shift away from salary-focused employment.

“The next generation is looking for other things in how they’re employed — it’s the small things, the little things that matter, that motivate people today.”

In order to improve labour retention, Seymour suggests paying attention to things as seemingly trivial as quality clothing, and as overlooked as communication. Share your vision, your goals, and be willing to hear theirs — “start to think about [your employees] as a part of your operation.”

Risk Management:

Seymour believes risk management is a blend of strategy and tactics. Know your costs, know your financial options, and make decisions based on the numbers.

“One of the probably most under-utilized tools in our industry is price insurance. You know, we’re looking at 12% of cattle in Saskatchewan and Alberta really enrolled in price insurance and it’s a pretty simple tool that people can learn about to spread some of their risk.


“Food retail margins have really declined in the last 3-5 years,” Seymour told RealAgriculture, “and we’re starting to see the retail sector 2-5% net margins on operations. And any industry that’s running that thin of margins is going to look for reasons to differentiate.”

And that’s exactly what some of the first speakers, representing food retails and distributors, spoke about — determining what, exactly, consumers are demanding, and figuring out ways to provide that.

“I think our industry has a great opportunity ahead of us to look at those as marketing angles to add some value, you know, create some margin for ourselves in the process too, but try to look at these with an open mind and say…’there’s a role for all types of production systems in this country’, and then use that as our way to add some margin back to the industry ourselves.”

Find more from the Canadian Beef Industry Conference here.

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