PLS Focus Group Reflections

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Peer-to-peer discussions are valuable for many reasons.  It is important to learn about other perspectives, priorities and values and it is interesting to me when this information comes through in a discussion about farming practices.  After participating in a focus group hosted by Precision Land Solutions I left feeling energized and positive about the future of farming. 

My biggest take-away from the conversations today was this: Farmers are concerned with being good stewards of the land.  Regardless of what motivates this priority, it was very evident that farmers are invested in practicing environmental stewardship and environmental sustainability.  This was evident in the fact that we took time out of our usual schedules to participate, and evident in the content of the conversations.

Water management has a huge impact on soil health, and naturally, soil health is a large factor in determining crop health.  Therefore, farmers make time to learn and navigate the laws and regulations, obtain permits and complete paperwork.  This also means investing in conversations with neighbours and spending money on infrastructure, in order to improve soil health.  Solution-oriented, peer-to-peer conversations help each of us to reflect on our practices and learn from others.   Although PLS commissioned this focus group to ensure that their vision and services align with farmer needs, the conversations were just as valuable to each of the producers in the room.

I learned about land and water resource management, and of equal benefit was the positive energy and optimism of the conversation.  Spring is in the air and we can’t wait to get started on another crop year.

Communication is the key

Technology helps farms and farmers in a number of ways. Often farmers want to embrace new technologies – they are interested in improving their productivity and sustainability, but that doesn’t always make it easy.  In a time of rapid technology advances, it is important to talk about how farmers and tech developers can work together to shorten both the research and development phase AND the adoption lifecycle.

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Here are my top 3 asks for the teams of people who develop technologies to assist farmers:

1.  Develop technologies to work in places where internet service is not reliable.

Due to the nature of our field locations, there are times when we require store-and-sync or delayed auto-sync options, in addition to cloud-based technologies.  (Of course, if there is a team out there who could solve our internet service issues that would be great too!) J

2. Develop technologies that are able to integrate across equipment brands. 

For instance, data from seeding equipment and harvest equipment can be used together to inform decisions for upcoming years.  The more easily this data can interplay, the better information we can get to make decisions.

3. Develop technologies that are easily scalable or that can be implemented in phases.

New technologies can have “ripple effects” across an operation, so it increases farmers’ ability to adopt new technology when the costs of the upgrades or changes can be spread out over several growing seasons.  For instance, in an ideal world, we would have row-by-row control, but for now it is financially feasible to have sectional control – knowing that eventually we can add the parts to make our sections smaller and smaller, until they turn into rows.

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Farmers are working hard to be sustainable socially, environmentally and economically.  Technology tools can help in all of these areas.  When farmers and developers communicate, everyone wins.  Efficient research and development cycles are good for companies and result in technologies that are easier for farmers to adopt.  In the end, this should have a positive impact on the environment and the consumer.  Sounds like a win, win, win, win situation.

Canadian Federal Tax Changes

On July 18th, the Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, announced significant proposed changes to the Canadian tax structure.  During the months that followed there were a number of farm groups actively lobbying for revisions to the proposal.  It seems that the lobbying paid off, as Minister Morneau announced a set of updates to the proposed changes in mid-October.  Many of the proposed changes reflect revised thinking about some of the hot button topics for farmers and farm families.  

Income Sprinkling

In the original proposal family members who received and “unreasonable” amount of income relative to their business contributions would be taxed at the highest personal income tax rate.  The revised proposal promises to continue to address these concerns, but the details are unclear.  This issue is very significant for many farm extenders who often struggle to quantify their business contributions.

Passive Investments

Originally the government announced that they wanted to limit this tax deferral strategy, however they are now allowing passive investment income of up to $50 000 inside an incorporated business before a much higher tax rate kicks in.  The intention of this passive investment is to allow people to develop their own personal safety net for changes in business circumstances (unanticipated slow down in business) or personal circumstances (retirement).  While there are still many questions about the details of the revised proposal, the recognition of the importance of passive investments was a welcome change for farmers.  

Converting income to capital gains

The original proposal would have discouraged the inter-generational transfer of businesses.  The government has since decided not to move forward with this measure.  

In following through on previous promises, the original federal tax change proposal included allowing incorporated small businesses a lower tax rate on their first $500 000 of income.  The current rate of 10.5% will be reduced to 10% (Jan 1, 2018) and then to 9% (Jan 1 2019).  This election promise affects many farm families, as well as many other agriculturally oriented small businesses.

As agvocates and farm extenders it is our responsibility to educate ourselves about potential changes so that we can lobby effectively for the farming industry.  Here are 3 ways to start:

  1. Work with your tax planner to determine the impacts the changes could have to your farm

  2. Lend your voice in your constituency to support what’s best for your farm

  3. Explain the impact - your personal story and/or pictures of your intergenerational farm, or as a farm extender our voice matters and it needs to be heard by non-farmers

Comment below or send us your story at teresa@farmfemmes.com or karen@farmfemmes.com and we will put together a series of posts of what this means to farmfemmes readers

Carbon Tax - Part Two

As a farm operator, there are significant implications of any carbon tax, however the province of Manitoba has acknowledged these potential impacts by including an exemption from the carbon levy for marked diesel and gasoline.  Although this does address one aspect of farm operator’s concerns, it may not address indirect impacts.  For instance, there may be the potential for indirect costs to be passed on to farmers, which has the potential to influence competitiveness with other jurisdictions, both nationally and internationally.

Large industrial emitters, like fertilizer plants, will be included in the plan through an output-based pricing system where they will only have to pay the $25/tonne levy when emissions exceed a pre-determined target.  These industrial emitters can earn credits allocated for future use when their emissions are below the target.  At this point, the process of determining targets is not defined.  This means that industry and agricultural sectors do not yet have a clear idea of any potential impacts concerning this aspect of farming operations.

The Manitoba plan does provide more local input into how revenues, estimated to be $260 million annually, are spent.  Some suggested options include:

  • Creation of an ecological goods and services program

  • Program to fund the adoption of beneficial management practices (BMPs)

  • Creation of a Center for Sustainable agriculture to research ways to reduce on-farm emissions

  • Expand the adoption of precision farming technologies that improve fertilizer use efficiency

  • Support research for the use of natural fibres in composites

  • Evaluating and developing strategies to respond to risk and opportunities facing farms due to weather changes and extreme weather events

There are a lot of options in how a carbon tax is applied, they key for you as our readers is understanding the implications to farm operations.  With both the federal and provincial plans, as with all tax code changes, there are pros and cons.  We encourage you to get involved as Manitoba looks to determine:

We would love to hear your comments – use the box below or email us directly at teresa@farmfemmes.com or karen@farmfemmes.com

Carbon Tax

At the end of October, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister unveiled the provincial Climate and Green Plan.  The purpose of the plan it two-fold: to provide a cleaner and greener Manitoba and to circumvent the carbon tax structure suggested by the federal government.  The provincial and federal plans are both designed for a five-year period, beginning in 2018 through 2022.  However, the Manitoba plan uses a flat rate of $25/tonne while the federal plan starts at $10/tonne in 2018 and increase to $50/tonne by 2022.   Agriculture being a key target of the plan is clear, being the identified as the second highest industry for emissions in the province.

During the carbon tax discussion it is important to remember that our environment impacts our farming practice in every aspect of our operation including:

  • the type of crops we choose to grow to

  • the amount of money we invest in water-related infrastructure

  • or  the amount of field-scaping we do to change the grade and drainage of fields.  

Regardless of the specific carbon tax plan we prefer, it is important to remember that this conversation can be win-win.  In the long view, farmers are attentive to environmental health and in the short view farmers need to consider financial impact and viability.  Farmers, especially multi-generational farmers have and continue to recognize that a long view of environment health and a short view of running a financially viable business are not distinct lenses.  They are both part of overall sustainability.