Canada's colorful farm management guru


What's it going to take to manage farms in the future? "Managing complexity, managing people, and managing finances," replies Larry Martin, one of Canada's most outspoken farm management experts.

Pretty good advice no matter where you farm, but Larry Martin's expertise is definitely focused on Canadian agriculture. In fact, Martin is CEO of the George Morris Centre, Canada's only independent agri-food think tank. More important, he's one of the country's most colorful, outspoken supporters - and critic.

"All developed countries have a major problem: we're old and fat. And we're going to get older," says Larry Martin, CEO of Canada's only independent agri-food think tank.

Raised on an Ohio dairy farm and graduated from OhioStateUniversity and University of Illinois, Martin and I sat down for a very frank discussion over lunch one day, hitting on topics ranging from 'the right stuff' to farm in today's tough business world, to world ag superpowers. (You can read the entire interview next week under web Exclusives at

Independent research. The George Morris Centre handles a lot of proprietary research for Canadian companies and government institutions. Its independence allows for a lot of leeway —perfect for someone like Martin, who is never afraid to speak his mind.

"George Morris said if you're not pissing someone off every week, you're not doing your job," says Martin. "Every time we do research that pisses someone off, we make six new friends.  So that's okay. The George Morris Centre is the only ag think tank in Canada with no attached vested interests to anyone, so we can say what we want."

Martin find himself speaking before several groups of farmers a year in strategic training sessions. Turns out Canadian farmers have the same challenges that many American farmers have: How do I choose which opportunities I'm going to pursue, of all the opportunities out there? How do I get the skills and capital to do the things I need to do? How do you take advantage of changes that are coming?

"You really have to start thinking five, six seven years down the road," Martin says. "All developed countries have a major problem: we're old and fat. And we're going to get older. What does that mean as far as what you're producing and selling on the farm? The baby boomers turned 60 this year, with major implications down the road. Five years from now do we make our pork and beef less tough so it's easier to chew for older people?"

People management. And like American farmers, most Canadian producers are reluctant to manage people — even though there's no way you will be able to manage larger farm operations of tomorrow with just one person.  

"Managing people is the way of the future," says Martin. "The people I deal with who are successful are not managing farms, they are managing people. We teach an executive course for farmers. It's quite interesting when you start the program and ask, why are you here. At least half say they know they don't know anything at all about managing people. When you get through the program, 90% understand that it's the most important part of the job."

That's not the only thing Canada has in common with American farmers. Like the U.S., there's increasingly fewer mid-sized farms here.

"Here you're either going to get big or get very focused on generating revenue from a small operation," says Martin. "So you're doing something to differentiate your products in the marketplace. Farmers who have vineyards might also now have a winery, for example. They don't compete on low costs, they compete on quality and differentiation.

"If they're going to survive, they're really good managers in every respect of the word."

Read the full interview in Web Exclusives, starting in March.

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