Farmers still prefer real-life face time

Farm management | New technologies haven’t replaced importance of face-to-face communication

Farmers often still learn best from talking to other farmers and their personal advisers, last week’s Agricultural Excellence Conference was told.

For all the wonders of websites, social media and other electronic communications, bringing farmers and advisers into the same room can still be the best way to boost farming skills.

“I think we have (lost something) because people can travel to the website but there’s not that same type of mentoring,” said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

“I think really what we’re going to have to look at is some type of mentoring system, or people setting examples.”

A young farmer said online communications help producers begin finding advice and support, but it doesn’t tend to be the way they actually get the advice.

“They’ll find it online, but the face-to-face are going to be important moving forward,” he said.

The Agricultural Excellence Conference, which was organized by Farm Management Canada, was rife with references to websites and online information sources.

However, many people said they felt that direct contact between people can’t be compromised by an over-reliance on electronic communication.

“Has anybody actually added up all the money that has been spent on websites and technology in communicating to farmers and compared that to how much has been lost in the face-to-face, knees-under-the-table extension we used to do in the good old days?” said BMO agriculture manager Lynn Lashuk of Kelowna, B.C.

“Every time we’re asked that question (about how to transfer advice and knowledge to farmers), there’s a new website that’s launched.”

Farmers and advisers sat together over the course of the three-day conference and discussed how to improve on-farm business management.

The importance of interpersonal communication came up repeatedly, with many noting how online services can distract from farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-adviser contact.

Some rued the loss of many forms of extension services in recent years, but others, especially farmers, highlighted the importance of “peer groups” as a way to transfer knowledge.

“Outside of paying (for superstar-like farming and farmer experts to meet with farmers), I think peer networks are probably the most fantastic way to get the knowledge transferred,” said one farmer during the roundtable session.

Bonnett said farmers can be shy or feel guilty about sharing their farm production and financial numbers with strangers, but many are willing to do so with friends or people they see as peers.

“Somehow we need to have a safe place where that discussion can take place on a one-to-one basis,” said Bonnett.

“We have a tendency to overlook the human element.”

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