Don’t let your farm get stuck in a rut

Kevin Stewart addressed asking difficult questions to create change, growth and innovation on the farm at the Outstanding Young Farmers conference in Penticton, B.C.  |  Karen Morrison photo

PENTICTON, B.C. — The status quo is not sustainable in a rapidly changing agricultural climate, delegates heard during Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers conference Dec. 1.

“If you are not focused on growth, you are going backwards,” said Kevin Stewart, who operates AgVision Media.

“In this disruptive environment, 70 percent of our decisions will be wrong because things are changing at an incredible pace,” said Stewart, citing examples from the last 50 years such as Facebook, cellphones, driverless tractors and electric cars.

He advised farmers to step out of their comfort zone, noting how returning to the same conference each year to talk to the same people limits opportunities for growth and new knowledge.

Stewart said a clear focus can also lead to innovation but likely happens during less than 30 percent of a farmer’s day.

“One of the main reasons on farms of why they fail to innovate is a lack of focus. We are distracted by our to-do list, multi-tasking, stick handling with our head down,” he said.

“If you can change what you focus on, you can change what grows.”

Writing down goals makes them more likely to be achieved, he added.

Stewart compared progress to old-time threshing machines building up movement through rotational energy.

“Progress is defined by action. Take advantage of momentum,” he said.

“Don’t spend so much time in planning, and execute early.”

Change can lead to opportunity, he added, citing the example of Three Farmers camelina oil products. Facing low crop prices, the female entrepreneurs decided to move into value-added markets and now sell their products in grocery stores across Canada.

He conceded that emotions are often tied up in family farm decisions, so he suggested thinking about what an outsider would do.

“It helps force objectivity into the operation,” he said.

That could mean re-examining the operation and the way things have always been done and asking what could be cut.

“Quitting gets rid of clutter, and clutter is the enemy of clarity.”

That resonated with Grant Dyck, a 2009 provincial OYF nominee from Niverville, Man.

“It’s a good challenge, you don’t hear that very often,” he said.

He and his wife, Colleen, grow grain and oilseeds on a multi-generational farm while also producing T-Rex ditchers and Gorp energy bars.

“(Stewart) talked about what we should quit instead of taking on more,” said Dyck.

“Sometimes it’s better to regroup and realize we are doing too much at times. ”

He said eliminating clutter to become focused could also help him prioritize, noting the many emails he receives daily that put him in a reactionary instead of proactive mode.

“This game is so volatile, you have to be on our feet and be ready to change,” said Dyck.

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