Report Synopsis

Farmer to Farmer Collaborations

Mark Brock

The constantly changing climate of agriculture has added pressure on Canadian farmers. These pressures over the years have forced a decline in overall farm numbers and resulted in more consolidation. Data from Statistics Canada shows this trend and highlights the loss of mid-sized farm operations. A study conducted by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Food and Agriculture Policy at the University of Guelph highlights that about 31% of Canadian farms had farm sales between $100,000 to $250,000 in 1981 and this fell to 8.5% in 2016 (Chen et al., 2019). This operating environment raises the question, how do we strengthen overall farm viability no matter the size? This report looks at the role collaborations could play in helping farmers overcome these challenges.

In researching collaboration, it seemed many in Canada resisted the idea. This led to stepping back to determine why there was such resistance. Research in behavioural economics helped explain why this may be happening. Fearing loss over a potential of gain may cause farmers to view collaborations negatively. Furthermore, it emphasizes the impact that decision biases have on collaborations in general.

This report examines five collaborations in Australia and New Zealand. Among these case studies, positive trends are observed, and key elements were identified in successful collaborations. In conducting numerous interviews, it further highlighted these trends.

Through this process, one main point became obvious. All collaborations begin with a 'why', a shared problem or goal. Broken down further, eighteen elements surfaced as being necessary building blocks for collaborations. They are further broken down into human and structural elements.

Human elements include:

  • Trust 
  • Innovation
  • Open-minded
  • Openness
  • Like-minded
  • Curious
  • Humility
  • Positive mindset

Structural elements include:

  • Group size
  • Safe environment
  • Diversity
  • Leadership
  • Exit plan
  • Accountability
  • Facilitator
  • Relevance

What became apparent is human elements need to be addressed before advancing further in a discussion of potential collaboration. If you get the 'people' aspect right, the rest seems to fall in place. Structural elements can then be developed that best reflects the needs and goals of the collaboration. Only then, a collaboration can create Key Performance Indicators that can measure against set goals. Because the human element is so crucial to the success of every collaboration, it is essential to have a set time to evaluate the entire collaboration mandate and its current relevance.

Collaborations should not be feared. It all comes down to a shared 'why'. A curiosity that led one to it, but the right people and proper structure that will keep one there.