Leading professionals from across North America gathered for the first Ag HR Symposium in Canada at the University of Guelph July 24 and 25.
Organized by Dr. Sara Mann, Associate Professor and Faculty Advisor of HR at the University of Guelph, the Symposium included representatives from University of California ANR, Canadian Agricultural HR Council, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, Farm Management Canada, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Labour Issue Coordinating Committee and the Centre for Excellence in Farm Business Management (NZ).

"The Symposium was an excellent opportunity to bring industry, government and academics together to explore challenges and opportunities," explains Dr. Mann. "It has created a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm for exploring HR issues and new projects for the Ag sector, for example, supervisory training needs, the effectiveness of different training methods, and the ROI of investing in HR."

Heather Ferrier of Farm Management Canada remarks confidently, "With this group working together, finding ways to have a positive impact on Ag HR is within reach."

"The energy, enthusiasm, wisdom of the group is infectious," insists Dennis Cooper of the University of Wisconsin.

In the current economic climate, and increasing restrictions on extension services, it is becoming increasingly important that industry stakeholders work together to leverage their strengths for greater reach and impact.

A recent study released by Ontario's Agricultural Management Institute points to the need to not only provide the industry with the necessary training, resources and tools, but also increase awareness of the benefits of addressing HR issues on the farm. Having an HR Plan was consistently ranked the least important by respondents; 38% feel it is somewhat to not important at all. Furthermore, only 17% have sought professional advice or training to create the plan, and of those who sought help, 82% were not satisfied with service provided.

University of California's Howard Rosenberg believes in the importance of not only paying attention to HR within agriculture, but the training and information-sharing required for improvements in real-world practice, stating, "This conference is taking on the complex challenges of managing the most critical resources in the agriculture – people – and of growing the abilities of all who have a hand in it."

As the agricultural industry becomes more complex at an ever-increasing rate, farmers will do well to focus on the variables that are under their control.

"There are lots of things that farmers do not control, but those things they do control, they control through people," remarks Gregorio Billikopf of the University of California. "How these people are hired and motivated makes all the difference in the world."

The Ag HR Symposium participants are committed to staying connected. Their next venture is to develop a set of collaborative projects to meet the needs of farmers, advisors and educators worldwide.