Continuous learning

A PROFILE OF AN AME ALUMNI EXPERIENCE

TODAY, DALE AND Carlene Mountjoy successfully manage the family farm with their daughter Holly and her husband Owen Boucher. Together, they cash crop 1,750 acres, run a 35 cow-calf operation, and also keep busy with some custom work.

But back in the early 2000’s, urban sprawl was weighing heavily on their minds.  Based in the Durham region, the Mountjoys were concerned about how to operate in the changing environment.  So as a team, they decided that the time was right to go to business school.  In 2003, Dale and Carlene enrolled in the Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management program (CTEAM) currently offered by Agri-Food Management Excellence (AME) and have become advocates for continuous learning ever since.

The CTEAM program involves four, week-long components that are held in different cities throughout Canada over two years. The aim is to evolve a strategic and operating plan that guides clients towards the future. Dale and Carlene were initially concerned about the commitment but feel confident that the experience has been well worth it.  “I’ve used a lot of the training and business aspects from CTEAM on the farm, but also in my role as a Director of the Ontario Corn Producers Association, and during the formation of Grain Farmers of Ontario,” says Dale, currently a District 12 Delegate.

He continues, “Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. The format of the program is intense, but you don’t have the usual distractions of home and everyone is in the same environment so you’re open to learning.” 

One of the best parts of the class was the relationships he developed with other participants from across Canada. “You form good relationships with others who are like minded. I know people who have called up classmates and asked them for feedback, even years later.”

EXPLORING BRAZIL
It is these classmates and other AME graduates that work with instructors on a committee to guide and develop the alumni program each year. In the past, alumni groups have travelled to California or stayed in Canada to brush up on management skills; but this February, Class 22 travelled to agricultural competitor Brazil for a twelve-day tour. The trip focused on two of the most important agricultural regions, Mato Grosso and Paraná, and provided a view of the supply chain from primary production in the interior to the point of export.

The Class was initially surprised at the extraordinary pace of development in Brazil.  Most had an anticipation of what things would look like in a “developing country” and were constantly amazed that none of their generalizations were even close to reality.  Every city has multiple cranes on the horizon in every direction.

Agricultural development has been consistent for the last 60 years and although acreage has expanded by about 45 percent since 1991, production has exploded by approximately 230 percent in the same period.

The first stage of expansion took place with farmers from the south coming into Paraná and clearing land to produce agricultural products. The second stage occurred in the 1970s and 80s when farmers from Paraná and the areas farther to the south, as well as some immigrants, moved into the Cerrado region of Mato Grosso and did it all over again. A third wave has started now as land is being cleared farther north and east in the Cerrado region.
The models of development for the first two waves were quite different.  In the first, farms were relatively small and cooperatives played a huge role in marketing as well as in acquiring inputs. Today, roughly 65 to 70 percent of the farm production in Paraná is marketed through cooperatives. The second and third waves were led by relatively large farms and very little of the cooperative element. To some degree, the people who took the risks in both cases are the same people or are their descendants.
What all of the waves have in common is that they were done on land that was virgin, relatively poor red soils, with high acidity (5 – 5.5 ph), and often quite erodible. In all cases, people banded together using mainly private-sector funds (80 percent of agricultural research is private) to find ways to deal with these environmental problems. 

For example, 25 years ago, the Iguassu River ran red because of the upstream soil erosion. The result is a world leader in no-till farming, which along with other cultural practices, has stopped runoff, and is adding organic matter to the soil. The climate and cropping practices allow for two, and in some cases, three crops per year. In addition, AME alumni saw terraces and a number of other environmental practices designed to conserve soil. Soybean yields are consistently near 60 bushels per acre.

Every expansion and technological improvement has been done by entrepreneurs who were willing to take risks, both with the expansion of acreage, as well as new technologies to overcome the weaknesses that were inherent in Brazilian production. There are some extremely successful and wealthy people in Brazil, largely because they were willing to take risks and work together through cooperatives or on their own despite government policies that are somewhat less than encouraging. 

Examples of the policy environment include: no government safety net program; farm machinery is not tax exempt; strict legislation that prevents any employee from working more than 60 hours per week (even during harvest time); and refusal by state governments to build and, in many cases, to maintain country roads. It was highly relevant to the grain producers on the trip that 35 percent of the land owned needed to be left in a natural state either at the main farm or elsewhere in their holdings.

Just as impressive as the material development was the development of corporate responsibility. Every organization the Class visited, whether it be a cooperative, a corporation, a corporate farm, or a local implement dealer, included commentary about their corporate responsibility plan in their presentations, as a matter of course.  After the initial surprise that they believed it was important enough to discuss, the second reaction was to test whether it was real or an exercise in political correctness. 

To illustrate, when one company explained their financing was done through a syndicate of domestic and international banks, they were asked whether the syndicate required a social responsibility and environmental plan as fundamental to getting financing. The answer was that it was required, however, the company’s standards far exceeded the bank requirement. The speaker went on to explain how much higher their standards were and what the company is actually doing in terms of community development, benefits for their own employees, and contributions to the natural environment. 

When asked about his experience in Brazil, Dale commented that his key take-away was, “Don’t be afraid to make a move. In Brazil, they’ve made some big moves, taken big chances, and they showed us that it can work.” 

To succeed in the future, continuous learning, both at home and abroad is more important than ever. Dale summed this point up well when he said, “You don’t know when you are going to apply something [you’ve learned] until you do. If you don’t go learn, then you can’t.”

About the author:?Larry Martin is the principal instructor of the CTEAM and AME?Alumni courses.

WHAT IS AME?
Agri-Food Management Excellence (AME) is a Canadian company that provides premiere management and leadership training for producers and agri-food managers.  They are passionate about helping others to transform their business and life by focusing on what is important. They are supported by a set of well-respected instructors from academia and industry.

Courses offered by AME include the Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management (CTEAM) which is designed specifically for producers and ranchers, the Canadian Food and Agri-Business Management Excellence (CFAME) for senior managers and executives in the agri-food sector and Price Risk Management Using Futures and Options. This comprehensive, three-day course focuses on practical application and is recommended for any farmer or agri-business leader whose production (outputs) or raw materials (inputs) are commodity based.

Graduates of CTEAM and CFAME benefit from continuous learning opportunities through AME’s alumni programs and are also eligible for advanced standing in the MA and MBA programs at the University of Guelph.

More information is available online at www.agrifoodtraining.com or by calling their main office at 780-781-2840. •