small farmers

Why small farmers need study groups

All farmers – large farmers and small farmers – are generally pretty happy to talk about farming; much like pilots talk about flying and sailors talk about the wind and the sea. Seen in this light, there is really no better place for farmers to learn, and to benchmark themselves, than a study group. It is an invaluable resource, especially to farmers entering the field.

Farming is an unforgiving business, and even one mistake has the potential to take a farmer out of business. In the same way, a single piece of practical and well-timed advice from one farmer can save another from making a costly mistake.

Experience counts in farming; the more experience a farmer has, the better he is positioned to help other, and younger, farmers. Since there is usually a mix of ages in a farming community, the study group can contain a range of experience. Some farmers are better at business, others at herd health or pasture management. Everyone benefits from the combined strengths and wisdom of the group.

Generally study groups get together according to the sector in which the participants farm. So, for example, all the beef farmers in a local community could arrange to have a study group meeting every month to six weeks. Often the groups are organised on a case by case basis. At every meeting, a farmer presents an account of his farming operation, leaving nothing out. The other farmers in the group then consider how they can help him; where he can trim his spending, improve his profit, invest, discard, tweak his management and so on.

Confidentiality is of the utmost importance because study group farmers disclose financials to the group. This is essential because profit is the marker that shows the farmer where he is on the log. It also gives him something to benchmark against and a goal to move towards. A young farmer can benchmark himself against the top man or woman in his district and keep improving as he farms to get to that spot.

To keep the group serious and coherent, some form of meeting discipline must be in place; it would be silly to join with no commitment to the process. Once the group has been set up attendance is expected of every member, unless there is an extremely good reason for non-attendance. Missing more than say three meetings a year could mean getting kicked out of the group.

It doesn’t matter how big or small the farmer is, differences fall away in the study group because there is common cause and a group of farmers talking about what they like best in the world.

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