Opportunities Are On The Horizon, Is Your Team Ready? – By Sara Chambers

Recently, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council published their labour market forecast “Sowing Seeds of Change”. The report goes into detail on some of the workforce challenges our industry will face between now and 2030. Producers report that recruitment is becoming more and more difficult due to a lack of skilled laborers, the nature of the work (manual labour), seasonality and rural locations. The report discusses how retirement is a considerable factor in determining labor shortages, with several provinces (including Alberta and Saskatchewan) expected to see close to 35% of their domestic workforce retiring between now and 2030. Even if you are not facing recruitment challenges and/or the retiring workforce does not cause concern for your farm, I will still confidently state that human resource practices should be top of mind as you look to the future of your operation.

Luckily for us, Canadian agriculture isn’t predicted to slow down anytime soon and a significant portion of the workforce getting ready for retirement presents potential opportunities for those prepared to seize them. Oprah is quoted as saying that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity” and I’m fortunate to work with farm clients that recognize this. As a farm management consultant specializing in human resource management, I work with farms to develop a human resource framework for their operation, no matter the number of employees, that will help them prepare for opportunities in the future. If we want to build our people-management practices to support our vision for our business, I believe that farms need to be more strategic than offering a few more dollars per hour than their neighbors. More focus needs to be on building capable teams that we can rely on to come alongside us as we scale and grow.

There are a few key areas I consistently see farm managers challenged with that I believe could hold them back if opportunities come knocking.

  1. Ineffective Communication: A tale as old as time and not something unique to leaders in our industry. If you can master the art of clear and consistent communication in your business, your team will know what you expect of them and be less likely to fall short because of it.
  2. Lack of documented roles, responsibilities and expectations: If you are able to clearly define the various roles that exist within your business today and in the future, your team will be able to see opportunities that exist if they work for you and envision a career on your farm (not just a temporary job until they find something better).
  3. Compensation that doesn’t go beyond dollars per hour: Assuming that the only thing workers are motivated by is their wage is a common mistake. Recognition rewards, business performance bonuses, professional development opportunities and better options for work-life balance are just a few examples of opportunities for employers to set themselves apart. Think outside the box for different ways you can promote culture and foster buy-in and commitment amongst your team.
  4. Recruitment that focuses too heavily on technical abilities: When recruiting for and screening candidates for your business, think about the skills you need that you can’t train. You might be in an unexpected situation this year and you need someone to step onto your yard and understand how to operate the seeder from day 1. In cases like that, you can’t compromise on your need to hire someone with extensive experience operating that equipment. However, if you have one or even a team of experienced operators that you’re looking to expand, think about some of the soft skills that your existing team may be lacking in that would set your business up for growth (experience managing teams, organizational abilities, experience with night/shift work, etc.).
  5. A “we don’t need that” mentality: Words like “employment contract” and “job description” make many farmers shudder (so, if you just rolled your eyes at me, you’re not alone), but having these tools in place can serve you now and into the future regardless of the size or makeup of your team. There are reasons other industries adopt and celebrate good human resource practices and having “people challenges” is not unique to our industry. Simple pieces of paper can overcome communication gaps and clearly define expectations, the tools can work hard so you don’t have to.

I could quite literally talk all day about how developing a framework for people management can help you overcome challenges today and prepare your business for the future. I am fortunate to have been given leadership opportunities in various roles from the age of sixteen when I was a supervisor at my local co-op all the way to managing teams of 30 people in remote environments. If there’s one thing I hope you take away from reading this, it’s that you should start building your human resource framework now (seek out a coach if you need to). It will be a worthwhile exercise that will set you up for success as future opportunities come your way.


Sara Chambers, is a farm management consultant with Backswath Management Inc. She can be reached at 431.554.5390 or .

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