Peer groups give context, relationships, accountability

KAP, Backswath Management plug peer groups for producers — especially ‘emerging’ farmers

Joining a producer peer group can provide key relationships, insight into farming issues and professional development, according to a webinar hosted by KAP and Backswath Management.

“Peer groups can help you to create context for any one or any number of ‘what if this happens, what if that happens? What about this opportunity, what about that challenge?’” said Terry Betker, president and CEO of Backswath Management.

“A peer group helps to answer the question, that is, where can you get unbiased insight and information on critically important and sometimes sensitive issues and opportunities?” he added.

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Why it matters: Farmers benefit from unbiased peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

In a June 19 seminar, Backswath Management explored the benefits of peer groups for producers. Backswath, which provides farm management services and consulting, also offers peer groups as one of its products. Farmers pay fees to join these.

A peer group is not the coffee shop crew, Betker said. It is a group of non-competing people (not neighbours), specifically mandated toward a particular set of topics or needs. These people meet for discussion on that topic, sharing their experiences and insights, and seeking help where they’re lacking.

Betker said these groups are better off being structured or formalized — including having a charter and bylaws so there is a mutual understanding of the group’s purpose, and how it will conduct itself.

Relationships are key to these groups, Betker said. Relationships must “become entrenched” between members in order to get the most of these groups, he said. When this happens, members trust each other enough to be open about their struggles and mistakes.

“That vulnerability is a very key ingredient,” Betker said.

The group members also begin to understand each farmer’s context, e.g. their operation, their family situation, so they can give more accurate insights.

The group must also have accountability built in, he said. Group members should feel responsible to take action, improve and advance personal and business goals and interests.

The peer group can network, educate, give perspective, benchmark, conduct business reviews, and may eventually engage in joint business or investment strategies as relationships and trust build.

During the seminar, Backswath pitched a new “Emerging Farmers’ peer group, which is in development. This will focus on younger farmers, or farmers who are just growing into farm management, said Gavin Betker, director of technology at Backswath.

Expected topics will include financial management, human resources, communications and marketing, strategic planning, and other topics determined by the group, according to information provided to the Co-operator.

Gavin Betker said he expected succession will also be a topic of discussion.

He said some younger or emerging farmers have different opinions or management styles than the previous generation. They may feel micromanaged, or that they’re not getting enough support as they transition into a management role.

A common strategy in the past might have been to get a job off farm to gain outside experience, said Gavin Betker.

“That may not be an option,” he said. Especially if an emerging farmer wants to put their work into the farm right away.

This peer group was built in response to that need, he said.

There are still a few spaces available in the group, and if necessary they will build a second group, said Gavin Betker.

About the author

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Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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