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The CFFO Commentary: Management Groups Can Hone the Skills of Farmers

By John Clement
July 1, 2011
Farm business management groups have been used across Canada over the past few decades but there appears to be a renewed push today to broaden their appeal. Although these groups can vary widely from sector-to-sector, most feature a small group of farmers working with a facilitator to compare individual production and financial records against those of peers. In the process, the aim is to grow and develop the management skills of all participants in the group.
Proponents of management groups point out that participants are more likely to experience greater long-term profitability in their farm operations. But management groups don’t perform magic. They require a lot of hard work, commitment and good organization in order to help farmers become better managers.
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario is currently considering the creation of management groups for those members who show an interest. We’ve noted that farmers invariably enter into farm management discussions whenever they get together, regardless of what’s on the agenda for a given meeting. And we’re keen on making sure that we use as many “best practices” as possible in the creation of management groups. Here are some of my observations regarding what seasoned veterans have discovered about making management groups work well.
  • Groups need a recognized farm leader from their community to rally support for the management group. Without these champions, it can become difficult to recruit members or maintain enthusiasm.
  • Groups need a trained facilitator to help groups stay on track and to work their way through various pieces of group process. Without a good facilitator, chaos can quickly result because no one is responsible for ensuring that the group is functioning according to a plan.
  • Groups need to ensure that they have an excellent selection process for membership in the group. A participant who doesn’t live up to the best practices of a group can spoil the experience for all of the participants.
  • Groups need to be structured so that peers are talking to peers. Even within a commodity group, some producers are quicker to adopt new approaches than their neighbours and need to compare notes with like-minded individuals.
  • Groups need to be committed to absolute confidentiality regarding management information from peers. Nothing will kill a management group quicker than finding out that your neighbours know your banking arrangements or how much you pay an employee.
Farm business management groups hold a good deal of potential for raising the collective management skills of farmers. But they need to be put together in a way that works for all participants. Through committing to “best practices,” the chances of success are far higher.
John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and UCB Canada radio stations in Chatham, Belleville, Bancroft, Brockville and Kingston. It is also archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

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