Saturday, 14 April 2012

Cattlemen's Young Leaders Spring Forum Day Two

Today was a whirl wind of a day. It went by so fast, and I hope I can re-account for most of our conversations.....

First of all, today was incredible in the regards to meeting so many passionate youth within agriculture. Everyone that I had the chance to talk with had great ideas on how we can improve our ever changing industry. The flow of conversation never ended, it was much more laid back then I thought it would be. I was nervous for nothing, I felt like I was just sitting and having coffee with my fellow farmers, which essentially was all that we were doing. Discussing pivotal points within the cattle industry. Oh, and I guess we were being judged too.

The format was simple, with 6 questions and 6 rotations. Allowing for groups of 4 candidates to circle around the room and discuss key issues to the industry. 

My first table was a discussion on how we can ensure a sustainable and profitable future for the Canadian beef industry. Some of the concerns shared were how to feed animals more efficiently so we can provide more meat to our ever expanding export markets, and how to correct the traceability program so that there is more farm involvement. These were just two of the issues raised at a table of four candidates with a facilitator in a matter of 20-25 minutes. I am sure that if given more time to talk, we could have come up with more areas of focus.

The next round lead me in a discussion that if accepted to the program, what type of mentor I would be interested in having, as well as how I could become a leader for the Canadian cattle industry. My ideal mentor would be someone who plays a large part in the marketing and communications sector of the industry. I am leaning towards this area because I believe there is a huge disconnect between the average joe and the ag industry. Not too many years ago there was a time when everybody knew someone from the farm, and now we are reaching a point where people believe an egg comes from the store. I believe it is our job to promote the industry and promote the education about the industry. This is why I would enjoy having a mentor within communications so I can learn how to tell agriculture's story in a better way. I believe I could become a leader in the Canadian cattle industry by doing just that, telling agriculture's story and ensuring a sustainable industry through the consumer and make sure they are comfortable buying our products.

My third round table discussion was about the tools needed for young producers to financially succeed in today's agricultural environment. Some thoughts brought to the table where grant programs, incentives for education as well as being aware of the cost of doing business. Grant programs where an individual must create a farm on paper, in detail, and include start up costs, cash flow projections and other pieces of information to present to the sponsor and have them asses your plan and reward you with grant dollars. I think that this would be a great step in helping young people start from square one, if they are not fortunate enough to inherit a farm from their parents. Incentives for education will help young farmers want to go to school with a focus in agriculture, and help them come out with smaller loans. As it is a struggle many students face is whether or not they can afford to start a farm right out of school, or if they need to work for a while to lessen the financial debt and then be able to start a farm. Another important piece of the financial stability of an operation is knowing where you stand financially. If dad is always doing this piece of the business, and he is suddenly unable to do so, there will be deep trouble ahead. It is vital that everyone involved in the operations is aware of what is happening, so that they can deal with the paying of bills and other vital links in the operation so it can remain intact.

There was a quick health break and then we started our fourth round table discussion. The topic for this table was farm succession planning. This can be a very scary subject to a lot of people, lets face it, who wants to talk about their own death? However, I believe it is very important for the long term planning of an operation. If something were to happen to the main decision maker on the farm, what would happen to the family? I am sure we all know of people who are no longer speaking to their brothers and sisters for this very reason, that mom and dad left no plan and they were forced to fight over everything. It is much better to start the plans early, as you never know what is going to happen. It is vital to gain input from every child, regardless of whether or not they want to be involved in the hands on part of the farm. This seems to be the pinpoint of many family arguments, is that this is the legacy left by your parents, and you should be able to be involved even if it means not having the hands on aspect of the operation. Another point brought up was that what happens when there is no family to leave the farm to? People also need to be aware of this and ensure there is a will to identify someone as the executor of the estate so they can make the decisions regarding the operation.

The next discussion focused on how we can have a positive influence on consumer demand for Canadian beef and what tools we could utilize in doing so. Our table focused on educating the consumer, and ensuring they are aware of how we as an industry care about issues such as animal welfare. We need to ensure we are spreading positive news, so that the negative news can be drowned out of the media. In addition, there needs to be communication with other beef industries, including the US and Mexico. There is a lot of discussion with these countries, however it tends to be on a competitive nature. We need to work with them, and share ideas of how we tackled an issue, as well as learn from their best practises list. As we are a global agricultural industry, and at the end of the day we all have the same goal, so we need to ensure we are presenting a united front.

My last discussion was on the topic of encouraging innovation to advance the competitiveness of the sector. This discussion also landed on the same basis of global communication. As well as national and provincial communication within other sectors of the agriculture industry. Each sector can learn from other areas, including poultry, swine, grain as well as other pieces of the industry.

The judges and facilitators then deliberated and decided which 16 of the 25 candidates will be chosen to participate in the program. Discussing these topics with the other candidates amazed me, how many youth have such a strong grasp on many aspects of the industry. This made me extremely nervous, as well as commending the judges for the hard job they have to do, who will get this opportunity of a lifetime? Of course, as with anything they put off the announcement and kept us in suspense for a long time. Unfortunately, I was not chosen as one of the 16 participants for the CYL program. However, I am not discouraged, as the people chosen definitely deserve it. They are very knowledgeable in their interests, as well as very strong leaders. I am fortunate to have been able to participate in this forum, as I have walked away with many ideas and new thoughts to put into the industry. There are not many other opportunities to sit and have a lengthy discussion with the CCA president, or be able to share stories with the founder of AdFarm. This has been a great experience, and I will apply to attend again next year.

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