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Ontario Grain Farmer Magazine is the flagship publication of Grain Farmers of Ontario and a source of information for our province’s grain farmers. 

Free online course

CONVERSATIONS WITH BUSINESS EXPERTS

John Cranfield, PhD Associate Dean – External Relations, Department of Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics, Ontario Agricultural College, University of Guelph

(J.M.) TELL US ABOUT THE NEW FOUNDATIONS IN AGRICULTURAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM

(J.C.) The new Foundations in Agricultural Management online course (www.guelphagriculturalmanagement.com) is free, and available to any Canadian farmer interested in learning and developing new farm business management skills. This program is designed to help producers develop business management skills on their own time and at their own pace and build their confidence to take their farm operations to the next level. We hope participants can get excited about investing in themselves, their skill set, and their businesses.

The online management course is divided into eight modules. Each video module is approximately 20-25 minutes long and features University of Guelph researchers and professors. The modules also include producers who share their journey and experiences as they relate to the module topic. Working at their own pace, farmers can watch the course modules and complete a quiz to move on to the next module topic. The course begins with module topics that are meant to form foundational building blocks and moves to more specifics as producers advance through the modules. Module topics include business planning and strategy, financial literacy, human resources, risk management, transition planning, and managing mental health.

WHAT CAN PARTICIPANTS EXPECT FROM THE COURSE?

Our goal is to create a culture of continued and lifetime learning for farmers. The Foundations in Agricultural Management program is designed to guide participants in implementing effective business planning processes, leveraging financial tools, motivating teams, managing farm transition, and more.

Participants have the opportunity to learn new business management skills, and the program is intended to provide a framework to help farmers make decisions and develop the confidence to take a serious approach to make changes to their operations. We want farmers to ask themselves ‘where do I want to be in five years, and how do I get there?’

We hope another outcome will see producers understand the importance of mental health, that’s why we implemented the last module on mental health. We want to give farmers the courage and conviction to speak out if they’re not feeling ok and reach for help.

HOW WAS THE PROGRAM DEVELOPED?

The University of Guelph, in collaboration with RBC and Farm Credit Canada, developed this program. It was a year and a half in the making, where we worked closely with both ag lending partners to ground-truth the course topics and engage with Canadian producers to share their experiences as part of the program. I think the addition of the producers in the course modules is one of the unique aspects of this program, because they really offer authenticity and help participants relate.

The course launched in January 2022. The enrollment has been encouraging already, and we’ve even had producers from outside of Canada sign up. The program was created for Canadian farmers, but the skills and insights are easily transferrable and translate to other parts of the world too.

WHO IS THE PROGRAM DESIGNED FOR?

The course is designed for everyone, any farm type or geography, and is relevant for all Canadian farmers. We did have two specific audiences in mind when we developed the content though — younger producers, and mid-generation farmers who may be at a stage where they are transitioning from operator to more of a farm management position.

Elements of the modules have been created to help younger or new and beginning farmers establish the fundamentals of business, and those who have been in the business for a while who may be looking to upgrade their skills or are in a business growth stage. We hope the program can serve as a call to action for producers to seek additional resources, like professional advice and advisors to take their business to the next level. The course also provides additional resources for participants to continue implementing their business management skills on their own time.

WHY SHOULD FARMERS COMPLETE THE COURSE?

Farm finances, evaluating cost of production and risk management are perennial events on most farms, especially grain farms. Three of the eight modules focus on financial literacy and risk management and have a lot to offer grain farmers. The business planning, human resource, and farm transition focus areas of the course are also essential to operating a grain farm. It’s never been more important to have a written business plan, and in many cases, program participants are transitioning to a management position where they are responsible for attracting and retaining talent on their farms, making human resources another important new skill set. And we intentionally created two modules on farm transition and succession planning because this is another significant topic, especially on grain farms. •

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