Networking can offer producers value on their farms

Can your network make your farm more profitable?

Networking is one of the many 21st century buzzwords. What previously was referred to as coffee breaks at conferences and trade shows has been transformed into “networking” receptions. To some farmers, networking seems like a lot of fluff, while others have found that their network actually makes their business more profitable. So how does networking equate to actual dollars and cents in your pocket?

A network is a group of people who exchange information, contacts and experience for professional or social purposes. We’ve all heard the sayings, “you’re only as valuable as your network,” or “it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know,” and there is research to back this up. The research indicates that the size and strength of your network can actually have a positive impact on your health, happiness and income earning opportunities.

Social capital is the term used to describe the value in an existing network and potential value in a new network. In a 2017 study, business executives who were trained to strive for social capital were more likely to receive promotions and raises and had more overall job satisfaction. Businesses whose employees are rich in social capital dramatically outperform their competitors. Why should a farm business be any different?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of a well-established network is access to information. Knowledge is key in making the best decisions for your operation. Well-informed decisions can result in significant cost savings or increased revenue on the farm. For example, in response to a question posted on Twitter about a product he’s recently heard about, Farmer John learned that most farmers have found Product A to be effective in canola, and on average farmers are seeing a three bushel yield increase.

Greater access to information also provides the ability to compare prices. For example, Farmer Jill is looking to buy a swather, and after consulting with her network across the province, she has a better understanding of what she can expect to pay for one. Further to this, she can now use comparable prices of existing used inventory as a negotiating factor when she finds the swather she is interested in.

If having a network can make your farm more profitable, can farming without a network actually cost you money? Surely a farmer can eventually solve most problems on their own, but consulting with other farmers will likely save time. For those who regularly consult their network, often an individual suggests a solution that you might never have thought of on your own. For example, Farmer Tom was replacing far too many solenoids on his sprayer. After consulting with his network of innovative farmers, he learned that he can replace individual components on the solenoid instead of completely replacing the entire part.

Learning from other farmers’ experiences can allow people to benefit from their innovations and their struggles. A broad network gives you access to answers, advice and information that can make your farm better equipped to deal with decisions and challenges. If someone has already dealt with a similar problem, there’s no reason to spend your time reinventing the wheel.

Formal networking may seem less intuitive to a farmer than to someone who works directly with potential clients, such as a real estate broker or lawyer. But farmers have been networking for decades at auction sales, the post office or the grain elevator. Unfortunately, many farm communities experience remoteness, which can possibly result in isolation from new ideas. What’s changed is that through the power of social media and the internet, farmers now have access to a much broader and diverse network. Networks come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s the local coffee row, Kinsmen club, chat group or Twitter, there are many ways to provide today’s farmers the opportunity to exchange ideas around the globe and make informed decisions.

So who should be in your network? Ideally, individuals in your network support you and understand you yet have the ability to challenge you and your ideas when necessary. Surround yourself with those who are like you and your business as well as with individuals who provide a different perspective and encourage you to expand your thoughts and ideas.

Farming is a unique business, but like any other business it revolves around relationships and partnerships for success. We rely on each other to be successful. So lend a hand, ask for help and seek out other opinions. It’s good for your business.

Katelyn Duncan, P.Ag., BSA, is a Saskatchewan farmer and agrologist.

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