How to build a farm peer advisory group

Terry Betker has worked with farmers to establish peer groups for more than a decade.

Traditionally, farmers engage with their peers to share management ideas in informal settings  — everywhere from industry meetings to the local coffee shop — but formal peer groups are not common in Canadian agriculture, says Betker, president of Winnipeg-based Backswath Management.

Earlier this month at Farm Management Canada’s Agricultural Excellence Conference at Fredricton, New Brunswick, Betker shared his experience working with peer groups. In this interview with Real Agriculture’s Bernard Tobin, he says all it takes is two or three farmers to get a group off the ground.

To be effective, however, a formal process is needed, including established meeting dates and agendas. “Typically, each participant will know two or three people, the network will broaden and you’ll get your group to form,” he says. Building a covenant or constitution that sets expectations and rules of engagement for the group is also a crucial step in forming a peer group.

Betker, who builds and facilitates farmer peer groups, says they work best when they effectively provide a forum for farmers to talk with other farmers about sensitive issues. “It has a lot to do with mindset. If farmers are open to how they could advance management practices and learn from other farmers then it’s a good fit.” He also notes that diversity is a good thing. There is no need for the group to be comprised of just one type of farmer — dairy, potato, grain and vegetable farmers can all learn from each other. (Story continues after the video.)

Betker notes that the groups he’s been involved with tend to focus on common business questions — everything from understanding land cost and rental rates, to business financing and succession.

In the interview, Betker also discusses the keys characteristics of a successful peer group, including the need to build trust within the group that encourages farmers to engage and share management challenges. “When you have trust, farmers can open up and become vulnerable. They can admit that they can do better and learn from other farmers.”

Peer groups work best, adds Betker, when people come to meetings expecting to make a contribution to the discussion. They should also expect to gain insight that they can apply to their own business.

Click here for more Agricultural Excellence Conference coverage.

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