The Woolwich Observer
Course helps producers brush up on business planning skills
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.”