Farm consultants explore network services

Tax, risk management, farm management and real estate specialists meet to talk about fragmented advisory industry

Part 3: This series looks at how farmers, agriculture consultants and service providers are professionalizing agriculture by integrating the many skills required by today’s complex and challenging industry. You can follow the entire series here.

Lots of farmers have been scrambling to cope with the increasingly complex and unforgiving world of agriculture.

They aren’t alone. Some of the expert professionals they turn to for advice have been doing the same, and some feel they’ve fallen behind.

“As advisers and professionals we maybe have not kept up with the rapid change of the agricultural world,” mused BDO taxation specialist Geoff Garland, during a roundtable discussion between him, risk management specialists, farm management specialists and a farm real estate sales expert.

David Derwin of Winnipeg’s P.I. Financial, who arranged the meeting, agreed, noting that farmers need professional help for many aspects of farming, but often those professionals are broken-up pieces of a messy management pie.

“It’s sort of done chock-a-block rather than being big picture,” he said. “They don’t necessarily know each other. It’s that ability to have that true network of people (that will help commercial farmers thrive and succeed in the future.)”

Farmers have always relied on expert advice for certain key needs. Most farmers have hired accountants, agronomy advisers, management consultants and real estate agents at some point.

But in recent decades thousands of farmers have radically increased their level of knowledge, education, training and management in an attempt to succeed in today’s competitive environment.

And many want more from their advisers than piecemeal services. They are seeking customized advice for their specific operations.

That’s why Derwin was trying to figure out a way to offer a more comprehensive suite of professional services that farmers might need.

“There are a number of areas we just can’t address, that we’re not experts in,” said Joseph Alkana, a partner of Derwin, who held the meeting in his firm’s Portage and Main headquarters.

“We just want to do what we do best, but we want to work out something so we have a number of people like ourselves who can really take care of other areas that are equally important.”

Farmers avidly attend conferences and take professional development courses, but often they go without a comprehensive overview of their situation.

“You go to the conferences and there’s little bits here, little bits there. There’s experts everywhere, but there’s no-one who’s all on the same page of the farmer to help them with this,” said Derwin.

Garland and Steinbach farm real estate agent Stacey Hiebert have noticed that sometimes farmers come to them with situations they want to address, but the issue has little to do with real estate or accounting.

“I find that the first few meetings are more psychology than it is tax,” said Garland.

For Hiebert, real estate decisions often come to him rushed, without having been well thought out. That’s a product of the real estate decisions not being part of a longer term strategic management plan.

Hiebert hopes to make farmers’ land decisions a more integrated element of farm management, considering the millions of dollars often involved.

Terry and Gavin Betker of Backswath Management have been involved in that sort of advanced farm management planning for years, but as more farmers get more adept with management demands, agriculture itself demands more, not necessarily leaving farmers better prepared for contemporary demands than their forebears.

As farmers have increased their professional skills, farming has increased the professional demands placed on farmers.

That makes it necessary for professionals who advise farmers to get together, Terry Betker said, and many haven’t yet realized they are failing to do that.

“I don’t think that resource, that collective resource, has kept pace with the needs of the farmers,” he said. “I think the needs of the some of these farms have or are outstripping what we in the industry have put together in terms of a co-ordinated approach to help them.”

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