Planning habit worth keeping

Farmers might have mainly survived this crisis so far, but many are more aware of how a lack of preparedness can leave them more exposed.  | Getty Images

The pandemic might have grounded most airplanes, but it has been like jet fuel for some, feeding many trends throughout the economy.

An agricultural banker hopes one trend that keeps flying high post-pandemic is farmers’ embrace of strategic thinking.

“I hope we come out of this pandemic with more emphasis being put on the importance of planning,” said Ryan Riese, national director for Agriculture at Royal Bank of Canada.

The pandemic shocked all sectors of Canada’s economy and society, but agriculture felt some particularly nasty shocks in the early stages of the spread of COVID-19, especially among livestock producers and dairy, as processing plants were shut down or slowed down by outbreaks.

However, after agricultural industries adjusted, most farmers saw their industries stabilize, with most having a good year overall.

“When we look sector to sector, agriculture is one of them that rose to the top in terms of steady performance and a lot of resiliency,” said Riese in an interview.

That’s a statement to the strength of agriculture and farming, but Riese said he was happy to see farmers take advantage of the shocks and uncertainty to more carefully think out their entire operations. Farmers might have mainly survived this crisis so far, but many are more aware of how a lack of preparedness can leave them more exposed.

“We’ve seen in this year, in the most tragic of ways, how soon life can change, how circumstances can change overnight,” said Riese, who is based in Winnipeg.

The post-pandemic world might see farmers embrace a more holistic approach to planning, Riese said, in everything from risk management to succession planning to the farm’s business plan.

Much of that will require more communication among farm members so any disruption doesn’t leave individuals scrambling to find out what the plans actually are.

In a simple way, some planning has advanced this year by more farmers moving from old planning hardware to new software.

“It’s moving it from pen and paper to a centralized data management tool,” said Riese.

“There’s no shortage of options out there for farmers to look at becoming more efficient.”

While some farmers have gone down the whole-farm management road, many have focused on the crop and livestock production, leaving other elements of efficiency, profitability and risk more nebulous.

“Farmers typically know their production numbers like the back of their hand,” said Riese.

Adding a layer of the farm’s financial needs and structure adds depth and context for understanding how those production numbers add up to financial stability and profitability.

“Know your cash-flow. Know when your money’s coming in. Know when your money’s coming out. That just always allows you to make better decisions.”

Beyond strategic and concrete planning, Riese said he also expects to see more farmers adopt automation due to the interruptions caused by foreign workers being prevented or delayed from coming to Canada, or having to sit in quarantine after they arrived.

It’s given a lot of operations an opportunity to look at whether there are areas of the business they can better control through automation, he said.

In the end, every farm will need to find its measures to best set up the operation for its own particular needs. Fortunately, there are a lot of options out there, Riese said.

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