Reflections: Poland, Farming, Fresh Perspectives

It is a strange feeling to come to the end of our 19th International Farm Management Congress and tour of Poland. 

It seems we have spent a lifetime here with all of the places we have been and knowledge we have gained, and yet, it feels like we only just arrived yesterday. How quickly our IFMA acquaintances become not only our friends, but our family. While we sometimes refer to our ‘home away from home’, it seems we’re at the end of our family reunion! We have all said our goodbyes – with promises to see each other again in 2 years’ time in Canada. I cannot wait to introduce all of you to our IFMA family. 

I am delighted to have been among 17 Canadian delegates at the Congress, and look forward to bringing many more into this wonderful Association.

What a remarkable feeling to be presenting a paper to a room full of delegates from across the globe, only to realize you are in complete harmony with others in Norway, Uruguay and South Africa. And, the connection is made, just like that. We’ve been singing from the same song sheet without knowing it…imagine the harmonies we can make together!

I feel a sense of overwhelming privilege and pride to be part of such a high-spirited and caring group – the best ambassadors for lifelong learning and convalescence through connectivity, the world over. For we know there is always room for improvement and rewards to be had by letting your guard down – by seeing life, farming, agriculture, through the eyes of others.

We quickly forget our differences and see our common ground in humanity and life’s simple pleasures – in living, loving, laughing and learning.

Lasting Impressions
In Poland, the people we have met and the stories we have shared have truly touched our hearts and opened our minds. One night at dinner, our guide Jan told us of his first experience outside of Poland when he was just a boy. He recalls the ‘Western World’ – our colours, the smell of our clothes, our smiles, breathed ‘new life into him’. Humbling, isn’t it?

Poland’s resilience through uncertainty is remarkable.

Fear comes from uncertainty.
~Willian Congreve

I hope that you will take an opportunity to come visit Poland for yourself and learn from its past; our past – and, be inspired in looking around and ahead.

Looking to the Future
You will recall from a previous post that Poland is starting to and will undergo some significant changes in agricultural policy in the coming years. By 2015/17,
– All quota will be removed (dairy, sugar)
– Subsidies will be reduced (~30%) and farms treated individually
– 4-7% environmental preservation of land will be required

The farmers we met seem keen to welcome a more open market as they feel their business management skills will give them the competitive edge over others who depend upon subsidies for financial and risk management. As with all countries, we know that sustainable business depends of profit margins comfortably exceeding cost of production. While variables change in priority and practice, some common themes definitely emerge – labour access and availability, growth and expansion, capacity to sustain, farm succession and working with agricultural policy.

Looking at processing plants like ROJA, removal of subsidies could have a significant impact on supply chain industries – where will the money come from to build a processing plant stemming from a farmer cooperative in future?

Regarding the environmental requirements, this is surely good news to bee keepers who are very concerned about sustaining the bee population. If farmers retain dedicated parcels of land untouched by fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, bees may have a chance.

One of the limiting factors for farm management and growth is the separation of agricultural plots. Strip agriculture is everywhere, creating a logistical nightmare for farmers. Hopefully as the state continues to see off property, farmers can purchase larger plots of joined land.


poland strips

I want to reiterate that this blog is subject to our understanding and perceptions and there is much more to be said and discussed regarding this experience. We certainly welcome your comments and questions, and additions!

Become a part of IFMA!
All of the Congress Papers will be available on very soon, and select papers will be published in the International Journal of Agricultural Management.

I invite you all to join us in bringing the 20th International Farm Management Congress to Canada in 2015.

Attend, bring your family, bring your farm team, bring your colleagues, sponsor your students, clients and young farmers.

The International Farm Management Congress is, by far, the best kept secret for lifelong learning in agriculture.

Come join us, won’t you?

While the tours have finished, we will continue to use this blog to share post-Congress updates.

Thanks very much for your support in subscribing and reading the blog!

– The FMC Team


International Case Studies: Impact of Business Management

Today signaled the last day of the Congress and talk about saving the best for last.

My morning began with a speed-learning session on Entrepreneurship and Farm Strategies Development in CEE Countries which gave 10 international speakers the opportunity to present their work in 10 minute segments.

Of note, Ryan Koeslag of Ontario’s Agricultural Management Institute presented Baseline Study on the Behaviours and Characteristics of Farmers who conduct Business Management Strategies – A Story of 5 Ontario Farmers.

Other presentations included:

  • Study of development paths in dairy farming in Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia and the Netherlands – an overview – Abele Kuipers
  • Development paths of dairy farmers in Poland – Agata Malak-Rawlikowska
  • Interactive strategic management method + application in farmers trainings within LdV Project – Alfons Beldman
  • Farm analysis and strategy building with support of ISM method, – case of Polish farmer – Lech Sychocki
  • ISM training experiences in Slovenia, including work with farmers, students and entrepreneurial assignments – Maria Klopcic
  • Development paths and experiences with ISM trainings in Lithuania – Aldona Stalgiene
  • Evaluation of the interactive strategic management trainings – Agata Rawlikowska
  • Effect measuring of the trainings including competences – Carolien de Lauwere
  • Sustainability of ISM project results – ideas for future Agata Sosinska

Some observations:

1. Analysis of Farm Development Paths: Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Dutch
– Most farmers characterize themselves as independent specialists (41%)
– Farmers indicated how important farming goals were, ranking as follows:

  1. Maximize profits
  2. Sustainable quality
  3. Dairy tradition
  4. Work environment
  5. Improve management

– Farmers indicated knowledge was the most available resource to them, and least available is land. Labour is also an issue.
– Opportunities & Threats ranked the top threat as the Ag Policy (2015 removal of quota and reduction of subsidies), followed by the milk market, and regulations
– Top opportunities included interaction in the chain (vertical, horizontal value and supply chains) and technology
– Note: Dutch farmers see abolition of milk quota as an opportunity – Abele thought this had to do with self confidence in business management competency

2. Dairy Production Developments and Farm Strategies
– Accession to EU caused farmers to modernize and increase production scale
– Resulted in decrease of dairy farmers (61%), increase in yield per cow and improved milk quality
– Development strategies: 86% specialization (as opposed to diversification), 80% growth, 37% vertical chain, 42% cooperation, 9% diversification
– Downscaling, wait & see, diversification were ranked least used strategies
– 250% increase in milk production per farm since accession in 2004
– Rented vs bought land has had no impact on business development
– Dairy accounts for 20% of ag output
agata – 5th producer in EU – 10mill tonnes/yr

– 170,000 farms producing milk (average 10 ha w/ 11 cows)
– 62 tonnes of milk per farm, 5200kg milk per cow
– 27 euro for 100 kg
– 70% cooperatives
– 25% production exported
– No statistical difference between strategy and demographics – age, education of the manager
– Those who want to diversify are smaller farms
– 70% of farmers do not want to employ more workers (limiting the scale of production)

3. Interactive Strategic Management as Learning Tool for Improving Entrepreneurship of Farmers
– Issue: no clear direction available for the future of all farmers
– Farmers need to be shown how to develop a long term strategy for a successful future

The Program
– 3 day farmers’ training + other types
– Main goal not to develop the strategy but to think and work strategically
– Focus on strategic choices (5 years) not on operational or tactical choices
– Work with diverse farmers to avoid operational conversations in group
– 8-10 farmers, 3 meetings in a row with 2-3 weeks between
– + Facilitator
– + Web-based tool to support the tool not lead
– + Homework assignments to interact and reflect
– + Train the trainer

Day 1
o Farmers get acquainted – why are you a ___ farmer? What job would you have done if not a ______ farmer?
o What is strategic management?
o History and development of farm and farmer
o Working with tools
 Analyze current situation on farm (size, performance)
 Analyze environment (market and society)
 Use the tool
o Homework assignment – talk with an entrepreneur outside of agriculture

Day 2
o Present results of homework
o Talk about entrepreneurship skills
o Switch from analyzing to strategy
 Personal ambitions and drive
 Combining the analyses to matching strategy (must come up with at least 2)
 Consistency check with SMT – crucial step in training
– Spider diagrams

Day 3
o Present strategy to the group
o Develop action plan
o Reality check – investment? Make the first calculation yourself
o Reflection from trainer and other farmers

Year Later
o Return meeting
o Presentation of developments
o Plan tweaking
(try and stay in touch before this)
– Based on Canvas Business Model approachpoland farmer

4. Farm Analysis and Strategy Building with Support of ISM Method
– Farmers say they want more family life in beginning, but end plan doesn’t have it – so facilitator comes in to point out mismatch
5. Baseline Study on the Behaviours and Characteristics of Farmers Who Practice Business Development Strategies
– Farmers categorized as sceptics, planners, developers, sunsetters, independants
– When compare types of farmers, there is a correlation between more business plans and increased sales in last 5 years
– Developers are the largest, planners have the most business plans – most likely to report increased sales
– Full study and report available at

9. Effect Measuring of the Trainings including Competences
– Farmers who participated, perceive their competencies as higher than control group
– Survey to participants + control group
– Decrease in negativity about the future

A number of simultaneous sessions were held during this Thematic Session, one of which was Mathieu Lipari’s presentation: 2020: Planning for the Business Management Needs of Canadian Farmers – When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Everyone collected back into the main lecture hall where we were delighted by a farmers’ panel:

farmer panel

  • Wiesław Gryn (Poland)
  • David Hughes (Argentina)
  • Alex Lisitssa (Ukraine)
  • Andy MacFarlane (New Zealand)
  • Alastair Paterson (South Africa)

Of particular interest, David Hughes from Argentina spoke about the adoption of CREA (farm management groups) after a French model 50 years ago. This is the same model adopted by the Groupes conseils agricoles in Quebec. David’s CREA has over 200 groups with over 2000 members total.

Groups consist of 12 farmers who meet monthly and are led by an advisor paid by the group. Information is shared and benchmarked and field tests are planned. A Coordinator ensures advisors get together to readily share information and secure a strong technical network. Each group is chaired by a farmers and after two years, cannot come back to Chair until all members have had a turn.

Andy Macfarlane, farm management consultant from New Zealand, cited some dairy facts re: average farms:
– 100% irrigated
– 550 acres
– 770 cows
– Production 342,000 kg MS (5,2% fat)
– 6800 kg milk per cow (25 kg/day)
– 4 employees, 16% of total production costs
– 80% pasture diet
– $38,000/ha
– $8000/ha Fonterra shares
– $6000/ha stock
– $1000/ha plant
– Return on Capital: 4.7-6.6%

Andy cited NZ’s main trends:
– Environmental standards tightening
– Cost of infrastructure continues to drive farmers from sheep and beef towards dairy
– High prices encourage opportunists to defraud value chains
– 45% avg. debt level
– 6% fixed interest rate
– Markets moving west to east, China takes 30% milk and lamb, beef and timber
– Ag students need to increase by 500% to meet demand
And lastly, NZ can feed 30 million people.

Finally, it was time to present Canada as the next Congress location and invite participants to come see us in 2015!
The 20th International Farm Management Congress will be in Quebec City – August 2015. Be there!

Thanks to Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada and Quebec Tourism for supplying materials for the presentation.

Rob Napier (Australia) closed the Congress encouraging participants to create a Takeaways 2-pager and action plan to follow the Congress.

Afterwards the Council (Board) met for a post-Congress meeting to reflect on what went well, areas for improvement and carrying IFMA’s strategic direction forward.

A personal thanks goes to our fellow Canadians for bringing such a strong Canadian delegation to this Congress. And special thanks to CRAAQ for taking part in the Congress to ensure 2015 is a huge success!

Tomorrow (Saturday) I begin the first day of a week-long post tour around Poland. Be sure to follow my adventure, starting with JMP Flowers.


Canadian delegates ready to do Canadian agriculture proud!

We have 15 Canadian delegates travelling to the 19th International Farm Management Congress in Poland.

Here’s a list of who will be presenting what:

Farm Management Canada – Heather Watson
Transferring Knowledge and Experience to Strengthen the Agricultural Industry: Step Up – A Mentorship Program for Canada’s Future Farm Managers

IFMA20 Canada Presentation to Congress – Invitation to Canada – August 2015

Farm Management Canada – Mathieu Lipari
2020: Planning for the Business Management Needs of Canadian Farmers – When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

University of Saskatchewan – Suren Kulshreshtha
Economic and Environmental Assessment of Pulse Rotations in Canadian Prairies

University of Saskatchewan – Eric Micheels
Experience, Learning and Innovativeness in Beef Production: Results from a Cluster Analysis

University of Saskatchewan – Bill Brown
The Extent of the Structural Change in Primary Agriculture

University of Saskatchewan – Marv Painter
North American Farmland Investment Performance Assessment Using E-V Analysis, CAPM and Value at Risk

University of Saskatchewan -Dick Schoney
An Agent-Based Simulation Model of Western Canadian Prairie Agricultural Structural Change

Backswath Management – Terry Betker
Farm Management Plans – Terry Betker
Farm Family Business Consultant Peer Group: a Review

Agricultural Management Institute – Ryan Koeslag
Baseline Study on the Behaviours and Characteristics of Farmers who Conduct Business Management Strategies – A Story of 5 Ontarion Farmers


For a complete list of paper presentations, click here.

And of course, for the complete Congress agenda, visit:

We are so very pleased to be in the company of these innovative business thinkers.



Be part of the Learning Experience!

Hi everyone!

It’s hard to believe that in two week’s time, we will be touching down in Poland.

We’re excited to be joining a dozen other Canadians on our adventure including folks from the University of Saskatchewan, the Agricultural Management Institute of Ontario (AMI) and the Centre de référence en agriculture et agroalimentaire du Québec (CRAAQ).

We are eager to promote Canadian agriculture’s strengths while sharing insights, challenges and looking for opportunities to improve our practices and learn from the best in farm management from around the world. We look forward to enhancing and updating our perspective on the realities faced by our peers, partners and competitors.

We encourage you to use this blog as an opportunity to post questions, comments, and reflections. Or alternatively, send us a tweet!

We are happy to be your eyes, ears, and mouth – and are committed to making this Congress an opportunity to teach and learn for everyone.

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Farm Mgmt Canada goes to Poland!

We will be blogging daily and tweeting from the International Farm Management Association Congress in Warsaw, Poland July 21 – August 3 2013.

FMC is the only national organization devoted  exclusively to developing and distributing advanced farm management information.

Join me, Heather Watson, Executive Director and Mathieu Lipari, Project Manager and our the winner of the International Farm Management Competition Mark Foster of Jockbrae Farms in Carleton Place, as we share our experience – success stories, best management practices and expert advice from this biennial Congress.

Please stay tuned!

This blog is also available in French at

In the meantime, for more information on this International Congress, visit or see the links on the left!

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