Young farmers were urged to take a manufacturer’s mindset at a recent conference.
“Some people find that offensive. Don’t look at it that way,” Mitch Rezansoff said. “It’s just managing the farm the way any other business would. It’s knowing the cost of your production intimately.”
Rezansoff, executive director of CAAR, demonstrated a “whiteboarding” exercise during the efficiency-themed Manitoba Young Farmers Conference in Winnipeg on March 5, hosted by Keystone Agricultural Producers.
He encouraged producers to “aspire to be best in class” by having a long-term strategy, evaluating annually and evolving over time.
Keenan Wiebe, who farms near Starbuck, was Rezansoff’s guinea pig. They’d met beforehand and spent around three hours sifting through every aspect of the farm and looking for inefficiencies.
Rezansoff and Wiebe divided tasks by season — preparation, seeding, protecting and nurturing, and harvest. Rezansoff asked about the farm’s plans — business plans, crop rotation, water management, standard operating procedures, human resources, quality of life and others.
They listed strategies — business and agronomic development, customer and vendor management, data collection, emergency response, waste minimization and so forth.
They also went through metrics and efficiencies in logistics, machine utilization, labour, input utilization and risk mitigation.
The catalogued areas of waste: idling hours versus productive hours, transport hours, repair and maintenance trends, planned acres versus actual, duplicated activities and others.
As they identified the plans, strategies and efficiencies in place, Wiebe saw patterns begin to emerge. For instance, they found many items that “Dad always looked after.”
He and his brother came on as shareholders in the farm recently and expected their dad to begin slowing down, so ‘Dad always did this’ wasn’t going to cut it.
They also found many items that related to each other — the fact that they sell straw is related to nutrient management, for instance.
In the end, Wiebe said he’d developed eight priorities for 2020.
“That obviously starts with having more good farm business meetings,” he said.
As family that farms together, they need to differentiate farm and family time, have an agenda, be accountable and transparent, he said.
They needed to know their roles so they don’t have overlapping jobs or miss tasks.
They needed equipment and soil health strategies, Wiebe said. They should consolidate record-keeping and pursue agronomic and financial management. They’d also prioritize improving their annual review process.
“Everyone is good at putting plans together,” Rezansoff said. “How many actually take the time when harvest is done to sit down and have a very thorough analysis of — based on what we had planned — how did we do?”
Evan Shout showed ways farmers can get creative on data analysis in their operations — beginning with the humble tax return and financial statement.
“It’s the No. 1 source of data,” said Shout. “Yet when I say ‘big data’ everyone goes to combines, drills, variable rate, agronomy. Nope. No. 1, financial statements. If you have them, you have data. You can do data analytics.”
Shout is president of Maverick Ag Ltd. and CFO of Hebert Grain Ventures, a large grain and oilseed operation in central Saskatchewan.
He shared ways they at Hebert had used data analysis to optimize everything from human resources to the A to B line in the field.
Hebert Grain Ventures employees go through personality profiling when they join the team, and are asked to list their least favourite, tolerable, and favourite tasks.
“As managers we make assumptions,” said Shout. “Don’t make assumptions.”
A woman who worked as a bookkeeper, it turned out, wanted to drive a tractor sometimes — not a million-dollar rig, but some kind of field work. She now does all their rock picking at seeding, and half their swathing. She’s not very busy in May and September anyway.
Shout said they got some resistance when they implemented John Deere’s Harvest Smart, self-driving tech on their combines so they tested it for a few days. In the end, Harvest Smart was 15 to 20 per cent more efficient than even their best operators.
Yet some workers don’t use it, and as Hebert has over 400 acres of barley still lying in the field, Shout said that could have been the difference.
“This is where data analytics are going,” Shout said.