Farm Success Built On Avoiding The Icebergs

Andrew DeRuyck believes good farm management and realistic planning are essential to sustain growth and make farms more resilient to changing conditions and markets, and it s quite apparent he practices what he preaches.

The way Andrew and his wife Tanis have handled change, to diversify and strengthen their own farm operations, played a large part in their selection as Manitoba s 2011 Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF).

The couple crop about 1,120 acres near Mariapolis, in south-central Manitoba and, since purchasing land from Andrew s parents 11 years ago, they have evolved out of cattle and into grain, custom seeding and spraying and farm management consulting.

The DeRuycks had a 275- headd cow-calf beef herd when BSE hit, and as Andrew worked on farm business projections he quickly realized it was time for the first big change.

I saw profitability was going to be down, and I started to assess our strengths and weaknesses, he says. Major strengths were that Andrew and Tanis had degrees in agriculture and that Andrew had experience working for several large agricultural and financial companies, including Dow AgroSciences, BASF, Farm Credit Canada and CIBC.

The situation prompted Andrew and Tanis to start a farm business management consulting company, which eventually led to a partnership in 2009 with financial advisor Mark Sloane, and the formation of Right Choice Consulting. The company offers private financial and strategic planning advice to producers and also works with government agencies like Agri-Stability, the Farm Debt Mediation Service and Canadian Farm Business Advisory Services.

After experiencing the challenges of a farm succession within his own family, Andrew saw another opportunity in helping to counsel other farm families through the same process. So, in 2008, Andrew obtained his mediators certificate to offer yet another service to producers and their families.

Andrew firmly believes his own farming experiences and his understanding of the industry help make him more credible as a farm management consultant and mediator. I see the financial problems and management challenges other guys are facing, he says. And I have hands-on knowledge with my own farm, so the two businesses have very good synergy.

Although the consulting business has been part of the DeRuyck s farm diversification plan, it s not the sole reason for their success over the years. They have always believed in following the same advice they give their clients; planning carefully and keeping an eye out for opportunities along the way. We do a lot of little things well, says Andrew. I think the thing that has probably made the biggest difference and brought it all together is our own business planning. We spend a lot of time doing projections and looking for problems on the horizon. If we know what challenges are ahead we have the time to work through and think of ways to overcome them.

It also allows them to predict trends and see opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. They were able to assess the right time to exit the cattle business and move into grain, and make equipment purchases viable by offering custom work.

It s the timing and recognising opportunities out there that s probably been the single most important thing for us, says Andrew. Being aware of our business and doing the right things at the right time.

The DeRuycks harbour no illusions about being the biggest farmers or becoming overnight millionaires. Their approach continues to be to maintain steady, sustainable growth. We are very much focused on the net rather than the gross, says Andrew. Our plan for the next five years is sustainable growth and for the growth to be matched with our equity growth. And I guess consistent profitability that s also a major focus of our operation.

With two children of their own, Ben, 9 and Paige, 6, both Andrew and Tanis have personally been very supportive of the OYF program in the past and, although surprised to have been named as Manitoba s nominees for the national competition, they were happy to participate because of the importance of what it represents to them and future generations of farmers.

In agriculture we don t tend to celebrate our successes, says Andrew. So I think OYF is a great program and I believe it s important to all farmers and all of agriculture to get our young people excited and enthused and focus on some of the positives and the success stories and show them that this can work and you can have a good life in farming.

AngelaLovellwritesfromManitou,Man.

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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