Five Farm Business Management Tips For 2011

This year marked the expansion of the Syngenta Grower University program with the introduction of Grower U II, an intensive, four-day session in business foundations for alumni of the course. After taking home a wealth of business theory and best practices from their first trip to the Richard Ivey School of Business, based at London, Ont., alumni of the program were invited to return and delve deeper into the foundations of running a successful and sustainable farming operation. Although Grower U and Grower U II are an invitation-only learning event, Syngenta believes this form of business training has value for any operation. The following tips are some of the key lessons learned by the farmers who attended Grower U II this year.


Successful businesses don’t happen by accident. They are the result of careful strategic planning that balances the key elements of your business. When devising your plan, start by setting specific goals for your operation. Look at the big-picture objectives and vision for the future. Ask yourself, what do I want my business to look like in 10 years?

Next, consider the market you serve and how you can best meet the needs of that market. A bit of research goes a long way in identifying trends that could spell major opportunity for your farm. On the other hand, a good knowledge of your market can also help you avoid disaster, leading you away from strategic decisions that appear too risky after further consideration.


Tackling the financial statements for your operation may seem overwhelming at first, but by crunching some numbers you can learn a lot about your business, identify issues that can save you from pitfalls and maximize your current financial situation.

When discussing the performance of your farm with your banker or accountant, it’s important to go beyond the figures on your balance sheet. Arrive with a good idea of your revenues and expenses for the following year and know the market value of your current assets. Accountants often use set fields to determine the financial benchmarks of your business — approaching them with the right information can really pay off.


While performance feedback can be a touchy subject with family members and long-time employees on the farm, it’s an important part of staff development. A performance system gives your employees role clarity by defining expectations for their contribution to the business. Take your employees’ capabilities into consideration when building their role, while ensuring you create detailed job descriptions for new hires before their arrival.

After you’ve defined the role of each staff member, sit down with them and create clear goals together. A joint effort in setting these goals will ensure they are both understood and accepted by the employee. This creates an open forum for ongoing discussion on your employees’ progress and, if necessary, shortfalls.


While it’s crucial to actively develop your staff’s abilities, it’s also important to inspire their trust through effective communication. The first step to becoming a more effective communicator is to adapt your message to the recipient by taking into account their thoughts, feelings and position on the topic. This shows employees that you understand and accept their needs.

When determining the best way to deliver your message to staff, remember that being open, straightforward and reliable are crucial elements in building and maintaining a trusting work environment. Each time you incorporate these elements into your daily communications, you lay the building blocks for trust.


No matter the task at hand, two heads tend to be better than one. Your family or staff can shed light on issues you may not be aware of, while generating ideas you may not have considered.

Involving employees and stakeholders in planning activities, whether it be business strategy or problem-solving or even the creation of a performance system, allows them to feel like a valued contributor to the organization and opens the lines of communication. Gaining commitment from your staff is more about asking than telling — employees will be much more receptive to your ideas if you’ve considered theirs.

These are just a few of the many lessons offered at Syngenta Grower U II this year. While not everyone has access to the brightest minds in business for a crash course on their operation, there are ways to continue moving forward. Most important of all: never stop learning.

HollyNicollisthecustomermarketing managerforSyngentaCanada.Sheispartof theteamthatdevelopedthecurriculumfor SyngentaGrowerUniversityII,anadvanced learningopportunityforalumniofthe originalGrowerUprogram.TheGrowerU programsarefour-day,intensivebusiness managementtrainingsessions,taughtby theprofessorsattheRichardIveySchool ofBusinessinconjunctionwiththeexperts fromSyngentaCanada

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