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Small Working Groups Help Producers With Similar Operations Learn From Each Other

By Russell Stevens
Strategic Consultation Manager and Wildlife and Range Consultant

Posted Oct. 14, 2019

People involved in agriculture are proud and independent. Most prefer to work alone or with their spouse and other family members and are perfectly happy with that arrangement. Any successes or failures on the operation are celebrated or addressed among family members. They learn lessons from successes and failures alike. Reducing or eliminating failures improves resources and profitability. Learning about new or different ways of operating and new technologies can greatly reduce failures.

Some common methods producers use to learn are subscribing to magazines, online newsletters and various forms of social media. Also, many producers are members of local, state and national organizations that specialize in areas such as beef cattle, forage and wildlife management. These organizations usually host one or two meetings annually that producers can attend to learn more about the resources they are managing. There are also local educational events that producers can attend to learn new management tips and techniques.

No matter what the subject or discipline, there is no better way to learn about a specific issue than from those with experience, peer-to-peer.

These information sources and venues provide excellent information and offer opportunities for producers to learn and network, but they have their drawbacks. Magazines are monthly at best and are not a great way of providing timely information. Social media provides timely information but connectivity in rural areas, if it exists, can be frustratingly slow or hit and miss. Local events are usually focused on one or two topics that may or may not be applicable to every producer. And, the information presented at these events is commonly too basic or too technical. It is difficult for event organizers to avoid these issues.

State and national events are usually larger events with a more diverse array of subjects discussed. The biggest drawbacks for the producer with events of this scale are expense and time away from the operation. Once producers attend several events, gain an understanding of the subject matter presented and successfully implement it into their operations, they begin to weigh the benefits of attending educational events as opposed to staying to work on the ranch. At this point, they begin searching for other ways to learn. This is when networking while attending local, state and national events offers producers a very important service — contact and exposure to other like-minded producers.

No matter what the subject or discipline, there is no better way to learn about a specific issue than from those with experience, peer-to-peer. Many producers attend educational events because they have met other like-minded producers and have realized the worth of networking with them. Producers enjoy learning from other producers who have similar operations. Gaining first-hand knowledge from other producers regarding tips on everything from deals on feed and seed, working livestock, fencing and watering techniques, white-tailed deer management, grazing management, and dealing with timely weather and market events is priceless. Producers are often heard commenting on the success or failure of other producers, not the information presented at the last educational event they attended. This demonstrates the need for producer networking.

Working groups or associations comprised of like-minded producers can be beneficial to the success of a producer’s operation. Cooperatives or alliances also offer similar benefits, but are often comprised of large numbers of members and/or cover a large geographical area. Regional or contiguous working groups or associations with eight to 15 members offer the most educational and operational benefits to producers. Several associations, cooperatives and alliances can be found across the U.S., but small, more-intimate, producer-based working groups are less common. This may largely be due to good old American independence and pride, as well as the tendency of many producers to keep to themselves. Producers with the mindset to share information regarding their management techniques and operational successes and failures, who are willing to listen to the same experiences from other producers, can derive huge benefits from being a part of a working group or association.

Group of Agricultural Producers discuss operations

Noble Research Institute, state and national government entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other natural-resource-based organizations largely focus on providing assistance to individual producers or large groups of producers, which is very much needed and should continue. These organizations do realize the value of working with producer groups, doing some work with them even though it often is not their main focus.

For the past several years, Noble has helped form and support several working groups and associations, mostly comprised of small groups of producers with similar operations. The feedback from the producers involved has been overwhelmingly positive, and networking is what they value the most. Noble Research Institute consultants and the producers involved in the working groups constantly brainstorm ways and ideas to continue to provide informative activities and events for each group. This helps us keep in touch with producer needs and keeps the groups from becoming stagnant. We also have learned that not all producers are of the mindset or have the personality type to fit into small producer groups. It’s natural for some producers to be introverted and feel very uncomfortable speaking up in a group. It’s also natural for some producers to be on the opposite extreme, very vocal and tending to talk a lot more than others in the group.

If you would like to know more about producer working groups or associations, feel free to contact us here at Noble Research Institute. We would be glad to share our thoughts and experiences on forming and supporting these groups and increasing opportunities for even more producers to realize the value of networking.

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