Talent and trust earns farmer confidence for Ontario’s certified crop advisors

There are more than 660 Certified Crop Advisors (CCA) working in Ontario agriculture, a number that has grown tremendously in recent years that reflects the growing trust that farmers have in those who are certified.

To gain insight into the evolving role of CCAs and how they’re working with farmers, Bernard Tobin is joined by Justin Funk, managing partner at AgriStudies, a firm that focuses on providing professional development to those in sales and marketing in the agriculture industry.

Funk regularly conducts learning and development programs for retailers, crop input companies, and those who need to think strategically about relationships with their farming customers.

In the interview below, he explains that one of the drivers behind the increase in trust in CCAs is that a lot of products out there are similar to one another, and that it’s building relationships that sets retails apart.

“If you’re working for an ag retailer, let’s say, it’s very difficult to differentiate on the products you sell, because they’re literally exactly the same product as your nearest competitor,” says Funk. “One of the key differentiators now is technical skills, knowledge, service, and really, relationships.”

CCAs do focus heavily on technical skills, but are now starting to focus on management skills that will help them earn and keep business. Funk presented on this topic at the virtual Ontario Certified Crop Advisor Association annual meeting earlier this month.

So what do farmers expect from a CCA as a trusted advisor?

“To answer that question I think we first have to address the fact that not every farmer is interested in having a trusted advisor in that role,” says Funk. Some farmers may possess a similar skillset to a CCA and don’t require those skills from the relationship.

For those that value that level of partnership, trusted advisors earn their way to a seat at the table, with the goal of helping clients and customers make good decisions that have a positive impact on the long-term health of the business, says Funk.

In Funk’s presentation, he noted that the average farmer is called on by 13 sales people, but farmers are only working with about 55 per cent of those people. What makes a CCA part of that 55 per cent are certain table-state skills like honesty or technical competency, but also some skills that are maybe taken for granted like inquisitiveness and learning about the farm.

“Recognizing that just because somebody who’s growing the exact same crops, same number of acres, buying the same products as their neighbour, they’re different, they’ve got different motivators and goals,” says Funk, adding that previous negative experiences with salespeople may act as a barrier to even starting that relationship with a trusted CCA.

As far as what the relationship between a CCA and a farmer could like in the next 10 years, Funk says that CCAs will need to continue to evolve with the emerging needs of their customers.

“We see a significant trend now in favour of younger farmers making decisions,” says Funk, so being observant as to what and who’s changing on the farm, and shifting the interaction style with that account.

Finally, Funk says that CCAs may need to find unique ways to help farmers achieve a different set of goals, such as incorporating digital farming, different farming practices, or being proactive about preventing problems. There will be much more energy put into using data and analytics to help customers stay ahead of the curve.

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