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Finding Success in Challenging Times

Ranch Management Forum

By Jenay Werle, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Yorkton

January 2020

Livestock producer with his cattle.

The fifth annual Ranch Management Forum in December 2019 featured a panel of experts, who provided advice to producers on how to look ahead to the next production year after a challenging fall. A recurring theme among presenters was awareness and where beef producers should be focusing their attention, in order to prepare for the future.

Kathy Larson, a research associate from the University of Saskatchewan's College of Agriculture and Bioresources, highlighted the importance of good record keeping. Kathy stated, "a great manager has the ability to go back and utilize records" in making management decisions and being "low-cost" only goes so far. For beef producers, this means focusing on increasing your overall pounds of calf weaned in order to increase profit, which can be done through improved conception rates, calving rates, calving distribution, weaning rates, weaning weights and by reducing calf death loss.

It is also important for producers to use the records they are already keeping to make management decisions. The cost of production information varies greatly from ranch to ranch, so it does not help your operation to make decisions based on benchmarks.

Paul Hammerton, a farm management advisor with MNP, discussed the importance of using financial metrics to evaluate your financial well-being. A strong working capital (current assets, less current liabilities) will help your farming operation better weather a storm. He suggested making a strong working capital a business priority and know what it is for your operation. He suggested financing capital purchases so that cash is not tied up. He also reminded producers to "keep to the speed limit," meaning don't grow, expand or replace when your working capital is low. Other important financial metrics include the risk ratio and debt servicing ability. Examining these metrics can help with risk management and mitigation decisions.

Cynthia Beck is a farmer and therapist working in suicide prevention. She has seen indications of increased stress in the agriculture industry; specifically, an increase in mental health and suicide-related calls. She also reported the number one cause of farm injury is stress. With too much on their minds, farmers may not be fully aware and functional while working, which can lead to injury or death.

Cynthia shared the following tips for farm safety:

  • Sleep. Sleep is key for mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to increased rates of dementia later in life.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, as dehydration causes the brain to shrink.
  • Be sure to eat well.
  • Learn how to have a conversation that isn't about the economics or logistics of farming. Ask yourself and others "How are you?" and give/seek a meaningful response. Practise having healthy conversations with each person in your farming operation, as it makes the hard conversations easier down the road.

Val Panko, an agriculture transition specialist with Farm Credit Canada, spoke about the highlights of a successful farm transition process. She reminded participants that transition is a process, not a set date and there is a lot of work that should be done within the operation to prepare for the future of the farm before seeking outside expertise.

Important components of a successful farm transition include:

  • Setting personal and operational goals (which are very important in framing discussions);
  • Clear communication with your family;
  • Clarity around everyone's current and future roles;
  • Transitioning management and decision making duties;
  • Training the successor(s) and identifying other human resource requirements or gaps;
  • Addressing non-farming siblings or children, and;
  • Employing conflict management.

Val advised that it will be time to bring in accounting and legal experts when you have a good sense of the ideal result and to be a driver, not a passenger in the process. Your farm is unique and so is your transition. There is no single "right way" – you need to find the right way for you.

If you are feeling any symptoms of stress, the Farm Stress Line is available 24/7. Call 1-800-667-4442.

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