We are learning more about our soil with every passing year. 

Together, Dad and I have farmed about 50 crops since 1978 and, over the last five years, we are finally starting to understand what’s happening in the soil thanks to sensor technology that feeds directly into the Crop Intelligence platform, as well as satellite technology we use at Global Ag Risk.  

The system isn’t making decisions for us (yet!), but it is helping us with the timing of our decisions which continue to greatly impact and benefit production.

How does the system work?

We have a network of 12 soil probes each having numerous soil and weather sensors in the soil feeding us almost real-time data on soil moisture. We typically keep the probes in from April to October and, this winter, we decided to keep two probes in through the winter freeze so we could be better prepared heading into the spring. The system also pulls in data from John Deere weather stations in the area. The system is able to make general yield predictions based on those variables.

It’s a subscription service that we pay for annually. 

How intelligent is it?

Here’s a screenshot of how things are looking on our 30,000 acres in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. It’s an area that was somewhat spared by the drought conditions across the Prairies last year. We were lucky; I know many farmers lost entire crops by July, without a drop of rain during 30+ degree temps. However, you can see on the left-hand side,  we actually got rain during June, July and August.

What we really like about using the Crop Intelligence system is that during the growing season we can actually see the plants wicking moisture down into their roots. We’re shown the daily use of moisture, which is a level of detail we never had before.  By the third week of June, the plants will already be drawing moisture down into their roots. I can pull up this data on my phone while out in the field and see projected yields changing day to day, and sometimes by the hour, depending on the weather.

The data and insights also help us make decisions when it comes to fertilizer application – will we need to top-dress, how much, when should we apply it? Based on moisture levels, we will tweak the prescription accordingly. Fertilizer is to plants what calories are for humans, so this is a key metric that greatly influences production.

Our goal is, eventually, for this technology to help me make decisions at least weekly, if not daily.  I tell stories of farming having its own probability cheat card like BLACKJACK, where every day we are given the odds on the decision we are about to make before we make it.  

Spring 2022 conditions and predictions

Right now, we’re heading into the 2022 seeding season with really good moisture levels thanks, in part, to the amount of snowfall we had over the winter. The soil moisture has been re-charged and we are forecasting a normal crop. If all goes well, we have the potential to grow an above-average crop this year.  Although the yield predictions are for the average parts of the field, we can see variability depending on topography, salinity, etc.

The increasing cost of seed, fuel and fertilizer are other key considerations this growing season.  An average cost of production in the black soil zone is $400 an acre, but it’s estimated some producers will see that rise to $550 an acre or more because of the cost of inputs. The current price of nitrogen is 150% higher than when we purchased it last year and potash is almost 300% higher, then add on fuel, equipment and labor all adding to the inflating cost structures for farms..

One strategy we use at HGV is to carefully manage our working capital through some unique financing strategies.  This allows us to have an aggressive pre-purchasing strategy on fuel and inputs when we feel there are opportunities. It can occasionally be a  bit riskier as no one can predict future prices, but having such a strategy this past year, as well as storage infrastructure, has been a big win.

Risk of early frost or drought conditions could negatively affect our best laid plans and projected yields, which is why we still must have a robust risk management plan (a topic for a future blog). Needless to say, we’ll be watching weather conditions closely over the coming weeks and try to adjust as necessary. 

Wishing you all the best for #Plant2022.

Kristjan

At HGV, we hear from a lot of other farmers. Sometimes, we hear things that we know just aren’t true. Our Managing Partner Kristjan Hebert and Chief Financial Officer Evan Shout sat down to debunk some popular myths that they believe can hinder a growing farm. While there isn’t a one size fits all solution, we think you may find these tips helpful.

1. Myth: Bigger is better.

  • Fact: Size is not a function or profit. Some of the best producers we’ve seen are what you might consider “small,” i.e. between 3,500 – 5,000 acres in western Canada. In Saskatchewan, we still have many hobby farmers and the average size is actually closer to 1,500 acres. The bottom line – even small farms can be profitable. Instead of “Bigger is better,” we like to say, ”Better is better.” Constantly assessing and optimizing farm management practices will drastically improve your bottom line per acre. Sometimes those efficiencies are labour, not machinery. For example, we added 5,000 acres last year, but didn’t need to add more staff.  A unique value proposition is if you can scale better is better.

2.  Myth: Machinery should be my most important investment.

  • Fact: Labour almost always trumps machinery Yes, every farm needs new equipment, but it shouldn’t be the focal point of your efforts. Instead, equipment should allow you to use your labour more efficiently. Recently, we did a combine trade that allowed us to reduce 2 machines from our combine fleet. While these are bigger combines, it’s actually less machinery, and they free up our staff to do other jobs. Also, consider the costs involved. A new employee may cost you $60,000 – $100,000, while a new combine these days can run from $250,000 to $1 million.

3. Myth: You should find low-cost labour during the growing season.

  • Fact: Farming can be a full-time career that pays well. At HGV, we pride ourselves on finding the best people, paying them well and keeping them on staff year-round. Our mindset is that farming is an attractive career and we needed to start paying our full-time hires what they’d be making in other industries, whether it be mining, oil and gas, etc. We don’t hire and fire, we don’t have the cost of recruitment and we rarely end up being short on labour. Instead of looking for the cheapest workers, find good people, make them feel like part of the team and pay them what they’re worth!

4. Myth: It’s impossible to run a 24-hour farm operation during seeding.

  • Fact: We have been doing this for the last decade. By adding 12-hour day and night shifts, our productivity increased, and our employees were happier (some like the night shift!) and they didn’t feel “burnt out.” Because our employees were able to go home and get proper rest, our safety record improved as well. We have found historically that anything over a 16-hour shift will cause safety concerns and mistakes that could cost us in the long run. By implementing two shifts our employees work less hours per day than most farms that run during daylight hours.  All it took was planning to proactively deal with challenges we may face at night.

5. Myth: Family farms can’t be treated like businesses.

  • Fact: You must treat your operation as a business or it will not flourish and survive long-term. A great quote I heard from my friend, Gerrid Gust, is: “If you treat farming like a business, it’s a great way of life. Treat it like a way of life, it is a poor business.” At HGV, some of our team members have an ownership stake in the business, which is almost unheard of in agriculture. Setting up the business this way helps us attract and retain top talent so we can run the business more effectively. Treating it as a business does not take away from the family dynamic, which is at the root of HGV. The family legacy is still intact, the Hebert children will still have the option to run the business (if they want and are capable) and HGV has the best expertise it needs, which sometimes, isn’t family. It can sometimes be difficult, but families need to leave emotions out of business decisions.

6.  Myth: We don’t need new technology on the farm.

  • Fact: Technology is rapidly changing a farm’s profitability and efficiency. Agriculture has been slow to adopt new technology likely because it isn’t tangible – a farmer can’t really see it, use it and play with it and the ROI isn’t always immediate. About 75% of the farms we counsel have taken the leap towards adopting technological advancements, but 25% still seem stuck in the mindset of “We’ve always done it this way.” It’s a dangerous mindset and farms that don’t adapt will be left behind. Most farmers are cost-sensitive and technology isn’t cheap. But, its ability to make our jobs easier is without question. We find technology increases in ROI as farms implement multi-machine functions, whether that be multiple combines, sprayers, air drills, and even multiple yards and multiple operators.  Technologies such as prescriptions and guided mapping during the seeding season may make operations and setting machines much easier and more efficient (fewer mistakes). We need to embrace, not fear, farm technology.

7. Myth: We don’t need data and analytics.

  • Fact: Knowing your numbers can drastically decrease costs and increase profitabilityGetting really clear on your financial data is key and there are various platforms out there that can help you do it. Here’s a great example: last year we hauled our own grain while many farms hire a 3rd party trucking company. Once we analyzed our costs, labour, etc, we determined that we made money by trucking our own grain. We kept all full-time employees on the payroll, we chose how much grain and on what days – it was a win-win. But, that is something we would not have realized until we analyzed the numbers. There are many assumptions and misconceptions in farming, but your data will tell you the true story.

8. Myth: Weather is the biggest risk to my business.

  • Fact: currency and policy are the biggest risks. In farming, you can insure against the weather. There are a number of companies, including Global Ag Risk, that will insure against the weather so farmers avoid huge losses. You might wonder why many operations don’t make strong risk management choices. It’s a cost issue and many believe because they have had strong historical results that it won’t happen to them or they decide to gamble and take on the risk. If more farmers were properly insured against loss, if they fully understood how much equity they were risking, we would hear far fewer demands for government handouts and subsidies. If you could insure the highest net income you’ve ever had, before even putting the crop in the ground, why wouldn’t you do it?

  • Currency and policy are two things that are out of our control as farmers. Government policies that aim to limit fertilizer, control the growing process, fluctuating exchange rates and inflation that then drive up the cost of inputs are the things we need to be worrying about. These are outside the control of insurance or decision-making.

9. Myth: We can’t share our ideas with other farms because it will make us less competitive.

  • Fact: Sharing challenges and learning from others will help you avoid costly mistakes. Call it ego, competitive nature or rugged individualism, the biggest downfall for some farmers is their inability to ask for help and learn from others. Why do they think they must learn it the hard way? It’s simply not true. The growing prominence of peer groups, business coaches and farm financial advisors means you can share knowledge, ask questions and learn from others. This is the way it works in other industries, so why not farming too? Even though you may be in competition for land with a neighboring farm, it doesn’t mean you can’t work together to help each other’s businesses succeed. This is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.

10. Myth: If I was not around tomorrow, the farm wouldn’t continue.

  •  Fact: A properly run farm has a transition and succession plan in place. The HGV team is fully empowered to run the farm in the event of death, disability, or succession. This is largely due to the amount of trust the owners have instilled in one another and staff members. Many farmers refuse to let go and fail to adequately prepare the next generation to take over. Most farms haven’t separated the cost and value of labour, management and equity making the discussions very intimidating.  The average age of a Canadian farmer is between 60-65, so transition planning is essential. Having a strong succession or transition plan in place, that includes staff, management, and leadership, is key to the continued legacy of most farms. The next generation depends on us being around long enough to transition OR having the proper plan in place to make sure the business is sustained. If you died today, would your operation run tomorrow?

Let us know if we missed any. We always appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please share with someone who might find this information useful for their operation.

 

Kristjan and Evan

News Release 

 

January 31, 2022 

 

Saskatchewan grain farmer recognized internationally as Climate Positive Leader in agriculture 

 

Kristjan Hebert is on a mission to teach Canadian farmers about profitability and sustainability 

 

January 31, 2022 – (Moosomin, SK) – From his home in southeastern Saskatchewan, Kristjan Hebert regularly takes calls from around the world. Politicians, company CEOs and other farmers want to know his secret – how to remain profitable in an industry that is constantly balancing high costs and volatile prices with respect for the land and soil. According to Hebert, the two are not mutually exclusive. 

“To me, it’s not an either-or discussion,” says Hebert, a second-generation farmer and chartered professional accountant. Hebert is the Managing Partner of Hebert Grain Ventures, a 30,000-acre grain and oilseed farm in Moosomin, SK. 

Widely thought of as the face of modern farming practices in Canada, Hebert recently received the Climate Positive Leader award from Corteva Agriscience. As part of the program, he was invited to attend the Global Farmer Network Roundtable in Brussels, aligning with COP 26, and will receive guidance from the Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre at Ohio State University. 

The Climate Positive Leader program recognizes early adopter producers who are successfully implementing, scaling and sharing climate positive practices. As the only Canadian winner of this global award, Hebert is proud to showcase the innovative systems that support the farm’s productivity goals while protecting the land and water. 

“We were honoured to be recognized as a farm that, despite our large size, is able to effectively implement sustainable practices, both those that happen naturally and those that are aided by new technologies,” says Hebert. 

Some of those practices include:

  • Grid soil sampling every four acres – allows for highly customized nutrient prescriptions even on a large field
  • Treating all nitrogen with nitrogen inhibitors – prevents nitrogen breakdown and carbon burnout 
  • Variable-rate fertilizer application – there is no “flat rate” for fertilizer; only use what the soil requires for yield goals 
  • Precision equipment with sectional control mechanisms – sensors prevent overlap or double applications
  • Rotational and fall cropping – increases soil health by lengthening the number of days the land has vegetation that absorbs carbon dioxide 
  • Zero tillage/low till farming – reduces soil disturbance and carbon loss 
  • Focus on data to prove rates of carbon sequestration

 

“Congratulations to Kristjan Hebert on being selected as the Canadian Climate Positive Leaders Program winner,” said Bryce Eger, President, Corteva Agriscience Canada. “Hebert Grain Ventures has been a pioneer in applying climate positive practices on their operation for nearly 30 years and continues to implement new and scalable on-farm sustainability practices. These climate positive practices are a prime example of how agriculture can be a solution to climate change, benefiting our planet, our industry and the global food system.”

Hebert advises farmers to work with multinational companies to continue implementing climate-positive practices. While many will say it’s too expensive, Hebert says sustainable practices can increase profitability by allowing them to control the cost of inputs, have bigger yields and create a regenerative and resilient farm operation.

“Sectional control, for example, prevents over-application and translates into an 11% reduction on our cost of inputs,” says Hebert. 

“Sustainability can’t stop scalability or it just won’t work. We need to scale over many acres or we just aren’t going to feed everybody,” says Hebert. World demand for Canada’s grain and oilseed supply remains strong. In 2019, Canada exported $24.2 billion of grains and oilseeds.

Hebert is a regular speaker to a variety of agricultural groups, a mentor to young farmers and a member of the Global Farmer Network. Over the next few months, he is focused on sharing agriculture’s positive role in decarbonization and advising other farmers on how to prepare for future carbon pricing legislation.

Kristjan Hebert and Bryce Eger are both available for interviews upon request. 

 

-30- 

 

About Hebert Grain Ventures (HGV):

 

HGV is a progressive 30,000-acre grain and oilseed operation in Moosomin, SK. HGV is obsessed with solving agriculture’s puzzles. Awarded Top Producer of 2020 by Farm Journal, HGV is built on the belief that it leaves the land and the financial statements in a better state for future generations. 

There was another positive announcement for Canada’s agriculture industry recently. As Canada’s (maybe even North America’s) largest canola producer, it makes sense that Saskatchewan is becoming a central hub for canola crush facilities.

The canola crushing and biodiesel refinery being built north of Regina is a joint venture partnership by Federated Co-op Ltd. and AGT Foods. It’s an important collaboration, and something I’d like to see more of in the agricultural community. 

Including the recent FCL-AGT announcement, there’s been billions of dollars announced by major heavyweights in the industry over the last year. As canola growers, we’re encouraged by JRI’s commitment to double the size of their facility, Ceres just announced a new facility on the Saskatchewan-North Dakota border, in addition to new Viterra and Cargill plants in Regina.

Once complete, the five canola crushing facilities announced will add another 6.8MMT capacity to the existing 4 MMT canola crushing capacity in SK. This 170% growth will give Saskatchewan the capacity to crush most of the canola grown within the province and well above its goal to process 75% of the canola grown in this province by 2030. 

Hats off to private industry, the government and all of those working hard to grow Canada’s value-added processing industry.

The canola will also be used in renewable diesel production – most of the diesel produced in Canada is made in Regina. Clean technology + value add is a win-win. 

Processing bulk commodities at home just makes sense

As a country, we’re far away from our major export markets, traditionally China. Up until about a decade ago, we shipped bulk commodities to California and/or China to be processed. Gradually, the thinking shifted. Canadian producers and the government started to realize that it was more beneficial to extract the value of the processing here in Canada and then ship the refined products. 

Creating a central hub of value-added canola crushing with two ports on either side (BC and Thunder Bay) is a success story and something we can do for a variety of other products.  The Roquette Pea Protein Plant in Portage, P & H flour mills, as well as the Barley Malting facilities are just some examples.  

At HGV, we are among those in this country who believe there is untapped potential for Canada’s value-added processing industry, as was noted in the Made in Canada report. 

There have been calls from the Canadian Agrifood Policy Institute (CAPI) to implement a national strategy and federal investment to attract large international processing facilities that serve domestic and international markets. We believe we’re seeing the results of these efforts, but still think there’s room to grow. We are hopeful our country can replicate the success of what we’ve done with canola crush.

The benefit to farmers is evident – freight and elevation costs are substantially decreased and more of the end-user price goes back to farmers. It goes without saying, you can ship a lot more refined product (canola meal and oil) than you can bulk product. 

There are also huge benefits to the local economy. The FCL-AGT announcement will translate into 4.5 billion in direct and indirect benefits, 2500 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs when the facility opens in 2027.

Will the money flow into rural Saskatchewan?

Where is all this canola coming from? It’s being grown by farmers who are raising families and trying their hardest to make a life in rural prairie towns that some days seem to be dying.

It’s disheartening to hear about families having to move to the city for better health care, education or recreational facilities. Farm help is hard to find and our ability to run a successful and profitable operation gets put in jeopardy. 

So, how can we ensure the money and investment dollars also flow into rural Saskatchewan? At HGV, we’re passionate about finding ways to keep our rural communities vibrant and growing and we would love to hear your ideas.

The provincial government and Economic Development Regina are aware of the issues and are working hard to solve them, hopefully, sooner rather than later.  However, we need to feed these groups ideas on how to keep improving our rural economy versus waiting for them to figure it out.

Keeping international demand for Canadian canola strong 

We still have international purchasers that want our bulk commodity, so competition has been created between domestic crush and international markets – that’s the good news. 

Now, it’s up to governments to keep investing and ensuring that foreign markets still want Canadian products. There needs to be a concerted effort to keep the Canadian brand strong and to create a predictable trading environment for Canadian genetically modified crop exports, like canola. Transparent, science-based trade rules will help ensure Canadian farmers are treated fairly when exporting to global markets.

Let’s hope our government can ensure our markets are growing and the science around GM canola remains sound.

If we can’t sell our canola, it’s not worth anything to anybody.

 

 

Kristjan Hebert was born and raised a farmer. He left the family farm briefly to obtain his bachelor of commerce at the University of Saskatchewan and articled at MNP to fulfil his CPA requirements. He then returned to pursue his passion for farming. Grateful for being born into farming, Kristjan has made it his life’s work to help each and every farmer increase revenue and reduce risk in hopes of helping them live a better life, and fulfil the food needs of the growing world. Kristjan Hebert is the managing partner of Hebert Grain Ventures (HGV), a 12,000-acre grain and oilseed operation in southeast Saskatchewan. Kristjan quickly became recognized throughout the industry as one of the best young minds in farming.

Dedicated to practising and promoting excellence in farming. Kristjan Hebert was born and raised a farmer. He left the family farm briefly to get his CPA at the University of Saskatchewan but returned to his pursue his passion for farming. Hoping for unicorns and settling on good enough is very real when it comes to underperforming on your farm’s bottom line. Instead let’s focus on small improvements, balancing perfection and logistics, and aiming for excellence.

After a brief stint at Meyers Norris Penny, he came back to farming with a focus on profitability. He is the Chairmen of Global Ag Risk Solutions and is a graduate of Texas A&M’s The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). Danny Klinefelter, of TEPAP, refers to Kristjan Hebert as “one of the most progressive young farmers he knows”.

Kristjan Hebert is also the co-founder of a new online platform WorkHorse Hub, geared towards solving a serious issue in agriculture today – labour. Grateful for being born into farming, Kristjan has made it his life’s work to help each and every farmer increase revenue and reduce risk in hopes of helping them live a better life.

Video from the Speakers Bureau of Canada

Mission, vision and your farm’s success

What are the factors that will determine the success of your farm? Weather, soil conditions, markets and technology will all play roles. But I want to tell you that it is farm management that will be the real key to your success. The other factors will even out over the years, but the one thing that will consistently affect your performance – and the one thing you have complete control over – is how well you manage your farm.  And the starting point for great farm management is your mission and vision statements.

What are mission and vision statements?

A mission statement lays out your farm operation’s purpose. It answers the questions “Who are we?” and “Why do we exist?” A vision statement is about the future. It lays out your goals and aspirations. It answers the question “What do we want to achieve?

Why are mission and vision important?

Your mission and vision statements will do three things for you: They will illuminate, motivate and help you evaluate your farm operation.

Illuminate: Your mission statement shines a bright light on your organization and lets everyone – including you – know what you do and why you do it. Your vision statement illuminates both your destination (your goals) and the route you will take to get there. Without a vision not only will you be driving without a map but you won’t even know where you are going! Mission and vision also provide templates for decision making.  They help you know what questions to ask.

Motivate: Mission and vision statements will help understand why you do what you do.  You and your employees will work more effectively when you understand how each task you perform contributes to larger overarching goals. Mission and vision also promote teamwork by giving you and your team a common purpose.

Evaluate: The bottom line (“How profitable were we this year?”), is how most farmers evaluate their operations. But profit only tells part of the story and may not contribute to long-range thinking and planning. Regularly checking your performance against the items on your vision statement will give you a broad basis on which to evaluate your performance – and improve year after year.

Crafting your mission and vision statements

There are a lot great online resources that can help you craft your own mission and vision statements, try here, here and here.

I also invite you to see the mission and vision statements for Hebert Grain Ventures. And feel free to borrow from them – just make sure your statements are relevant to your operation.

Why it’s my mission to promote mission and vision

Why do I believe so passionately in the value of great farm management driven by mission and vision statements?  In addition to running my own 11,000-acre operation for years, I have also worked as a chartered accountant for Meyers Norris Penny. In my experience there I had the opportunity to carefully scrutinize the books and management practices of hundreds of farms.

What did I learn? It’s not the dirt that makes the difference between successful farms generating big profits and those just getting by, it is farm management practices. And while many of those successful farms did not have formal mission and vision statements they each had a clear vision of where they were going and how to get there. Adopting mission and vision statements for your farm will give you the same advantages. I encourage you to seize the opportunity and get on a mission and follow your vision!