Two generations benefit when implementing new ideas on the farm

A successful farm transition will rely on the skills and abilities of both parties

Regenerative agriculture champion Ryan Boyd says he benefited from solid advice from the older generation upon his return to the farm—when he listened.

When Ryan Boyd returned to the family operation, South Glanton Farms, near Forrest, he knew he wanted to do things a bit differently.

His interest had been sparked in the concept of regenerative agriculture, a farming system that aims to increase biodiversity, enrich soils, improve watersheds, enhance ecosystem services and capture carbon in the soil.

By making the farm more biologically resilient and sustainable, it can help make it more economically successful and adaptable.

Full of these new ideas and excited by the prospects, he came home after earning an agriculture degree at the University of Manitoba. Now, years later, he says he recalls being a little too hard headed when it came to considering his father’s good advice.

“I would say looking back that I ignored or didn’t realize the value of some of the advice my dad offered,” said Boyd, a 2019 Nuffield Scholar. “Learning how to plan and manage is not something that is switched on. It happens over many years. The challenge is to balance learning experiences with solid advice.”

Why it matters: The younger generation can bring energy and new ideas to the table, which the older generation can balance with hard-won experience.

Derek Brewin says he sees it all the time from the students enrolled in the University of Manitoba’s agribusiness and agricultural economics classes. He’s not sure how to pin it down into words exactly. But it’s definitely there.

“Our students attend our classes and go to their farms with new ideas… which is great… don’t get me wrong,” says Brewin, a professor and department head.

“But what they fail to realize is that when it comes to their own farm planning, their best resource is often their own parents’ experience. This is critical data available for students from people with the most valuable insights around the biggest steps for their farm historically.”

Brewin says that long-term succession planning or intergenerational transfers often take time to gain momentum of trust, timing and confidence. He says Manitoba farms are unique in that farm parents are farming and willing to share a lot of planning and thinking with the kids.

“For a lot of our students, their parents are getting ready for succession,” says Brewin. “In many cases, parents have given their kids part of the farm to manage and learn things on their own. Failing at small things is a good lesson as well in that you learn something new. It starts the transition process.”

Brewin says there are two main factors squarely in front of us that will influence long-term farm operations. The first is innovation where advanced technology, inputs and equipment boost and accelerate farm efficiency.

Of course, this sounds like a great trend on an individual farm basis. More product, less time incurred, faster results… a clear cut winner, right?

Well, not so fast. That formula works like a charm conceptually until the equation becomes reality and every farm is doing it.

This tends to happen most when prices are high, everyone scrambles to capitalize and respond to production. The increased, technology-efficient production soon produces a glut of product, which essentially kills high prices.

A tough planning scenario to be sure, especially with incurred financial pressures that each farm must shoulder.

The second is the combination of rising global population with the impacts of climate change drastically impacting producer abilities to produce grains in climate-influenced countries for a customer base in climate-influenced countries that can’t grow their own. This could be good for prices if not production.

“When we train students about farm planning, we ask them to closely examine the past year and how the key factors like yield and price may change as they budget for the future,” says Brewin. “But with long-term planning, you take into account yield and price variations over time. We can get drought – which is a worst-case scenario — and the bonanza years where everything is growing and prices are good.”

And sometimes for younger farmers those uncertain planning waters get a little calmer to navigate by starting the conversation at home and in earnest with the people who know their own farm best.

The Boyds are a good example of that template, having farmed in partnership since about 2005 until Ryan took full control of the farm from his dad Jim Boyd in 2017 in terms of shares and ownership of future growth.

“It takes a wise farmer to know when to step aside and let their successor gain valuable experience,” said Ryan Boyd. “When the energy of the new generation is coupled with the wisdom gained over a lifetime of growing conditions and world markets, it makes for a successful combination.”

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