Surrounded by professionals

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.

ALTONA, Man. — It’s a busy day at B and S Farm, with Eldon Klippenstein on the phone with his broker, hedging 2016-17 corn.

He’s multitasking, organizing quality samples of the pedigree seed and commercial beans and soybeans he’ll sell this year and also planning his crop mix.

New office furniture is sitting in boxes on the floor, waiting to be assembled, whenever there’s time between overseeing the operations of a 5,000 acre joint venture farm, a seed business, a small trucking company and a new grain trading business.

It’s the life of the contemporary farmer. It demands many skills, far beyond those needed by previous generations. It also demands the ability to let go of many aspects of farming and trust others who have special skills.

Klippenstein needs to be able to handle everything from cash flow management to human resources (the farm employs three full-time staff) and marketing to succession planning.

It’s a bewildering set of demands that Klippenstein’s practical, incisive mind seems to be able to handle.

“It seems to keep rolling,” is his pithy comment, apparently unrattled by the multiple skill demands he faces daily.

Unlike many farmers, Klippenstein wasn’t born into farming.

He was born in Mexico and came to Manitoba as nine-year-old in the late 1990s when the family settled in Altona.

After high school he managed a department in a local grocery store and then sold cars for five years.

He got married, and his wife’s family encouraged the newlyweds to consider farming.

“I always said ‘no,’ ” said Klippenstein. “I equated farming with sitting in a tractor and being bored. I needed more than sitting in a tractor.”

His in-laws were persistent and eventually he began to look at farming with less jaded eyes.

He and Pamela eventually bought land beside her family’s farm, trading labour for the use of equipment and other farming essentials.

He also spent two years in the University of Manitoba’s agriculture diploma program, studying ag business.

In a nice surprise, “we discovered there’s a fair bit to learn.” He found he loved marketing and management and that those were key to modern farm success.

Since then, Klippenstein has been helping develop a three-farm joint venture that he manages. Family member involvement can grow and shrink within the overall operation, allowing for succession issues to be resolved gradually and creating maximum use of equipment and resources.

He and Pamela also run E2 Trucking and Red River Grain, and Pamela’s accounting and bookkeeping skills help make sure the numbers all add up for the multiple operations.

One of Klippenstein’s prime skills is the ability to find and trust agriculture-focused professionals.

The broker on the morning phone call, Keith Ferley, “understands farms,” Klippenstein said. That trust allows Klippenstein to offload the task of placing the hedges he thinks must be made for his marketing plan to work.

He also relies on FarmLink Marketing for cash flow and marketing advice.

His lawyer understands farming, as does his banker, and he has accountants he trusts. They all offer good advice.

And that’s where Klippenstein thinks the modern farmer fits in.

“You fill the gaps between the professionals,” he said, describing himself and other farmers as “the hub.”

Being able to rely on competent professionals is essential for today’s vast, complex farms, in which no farmer is able to handle everything.

However, the professionals offer various and sometimes conflicting advice that must be balanced and assessed, leading to actions.

That’s the farmer’s job.

When managing human resources, he relies mostly on the golden rule: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated. It’s pretty simple.”

And because he has good people surrounding him, his weaknesses are covered.

“I can’t fix stuff properly,” he notes, relieved that he has people with mechanical skills.

He keeps up with the escalating skill demands and new technology by reading a lot of newspaper and magazine articles, attending a lot of workshops, going to many conferences and talking to the professionals he trusts.

“You’re dealing with so much more change.”

Far from the boring, tractor-sitting job he thought farming was, Klippenstein has found a complex and demanding business that suits him.

“It’s an interesting gig, what I’m doing now, compared to what I used to do.”

There are no signs that it will become any less interesting in coming years as farming continues to increase the demands placed on farmers and the professionals who serve them.

ed.white@producer.com

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