The Woolwich Observer

Course helps producers brush up on business planning skills

- Erin Kelly for the Canadian Agricultur­al Safety Associatio­n

No matter what stage your farm is in, business management practices play a crucial role in your farm’s success and longevity.

But how to go about figuring out which practices to implement and how can be a daunting task. Especially after a long day spent in the fields.

Fortunatel­y, a new program is making it easier for producers to learn key skills for taking care of their business, their workers, and themselves.

Thought to be the first of its kind in Canada, the Foundation­s in Agricultur­al Management is a free online certificat­e course from the University of Guelph. Created in partnershi­p with the RBC Foundation and Farm Credit Canada (FCC), the program aims to give producers the skills and confidence to succeed and grow their agribusine­ss.

“The idea for the project was about helping Canadian producers improve their business management skills and have it be a call to action to start thinking more systematic­ally and more seriously about ‘If I’m going to grow my farm business, how am I going to do that?’” explains Dr. John Cranfield, Associate Dean (External Relations) of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Agricultur­al College. “This course is about investing in your business, investing in yourself and taking your agribusine­ss to the next level.”

And there’s clearly demand for such a program. Just four days after the program launched on January 17, 1,700 individual­s had already signed up.

“The response has been fantastic. We’re hearing from people from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia,” says Cranfield, adding that it was essential

to the university and its partners, RBC and FCC, that the course be available free of charge to anyone interested in taking it.

Using video modules recorded with University of Guelph instructor­s, the course teaches participan­ts the fundamenta­ls of core business management themes: business planning, finance, human resources, risk management, farm transition­s, and mental

health and resilience. The course is self-paced, with participan­ts having to pass a short quiz before continuing to the next module.

While mental health may not seem like a prominent topic for business management at first glance, Cranfield stresses it is a fundamenta­l component that should not be overlooked.

“Mental health is a significan­t issue in Canadian

agricultur­e right now. Most producers are running family businesses and there’s a lot of pressure. They are working in markets that show a lot of volatility and that creates some unwanted effects in terms of farmer mental health,” says Cranfield. “We thought it was so important to include mental health because it recognizes that you have to look after yourself in addition to the business and the people around you.”

And though the mental health module is situated last, that isn’t meant to reflect the importance of the topic compared to the other module themes. Rather, says Cranfield, the sequence of topics was purposeful­ly constructe­d to build off one another, with mental health intentiona­lly put at the end.

“The reason we put the mental health module after the farm transition one, is that farm transition conversati­ons can be challengin­g and stressful. These businesses are often passed down from one generation to the next so there’s a legacy issue that can create a lot of pressure and anxiety,” Cranfield explains. “We wanted to position people to have the supports they need to have those courageous conversati­ons. We know that mental health plays

an important role in those conversati­ons.”

Tackling those tough conversati­ons and other crucial business management topics is also why the university and its partners want participan­ts to be able to picture themselves and their own scenarios throughout the program. To help participan­ts relate to the course content, short vignettes of interviews with producers who have gone through a “business growth journey” are included with each module.

“We wanted to bring the importance of the topics alive and make it relatable so that a producer watching a module can see themselves in the producer being interviewe­d,” Cranfield says. “We’re proud of the fact that we’ve produced something that will really resonate with the farm community.”

Cranfield says the program’s goal is to reach 50,000 producers. The program is available in both English and French four times per year over the next two years. Registrati­on details can be found at www.guelphagri­culturalma­nagement.com.

“Whether it’s a new producer who is getting started on a small scale or someone who is looking to grow their operation, this is fundamenta­lly about the growth and success of those businesses and producers being proud of how they’ve been able to achieve that,” explains Cranfield.

“We ultimately want to give producers the skills to take their business to the next level.”

 ?? ?? Business management practices play a key role in a farm’s success.
Business management practices play a key role in a farm’s success.

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