Farm business training program teaches lean management concepts for ag

A desire for business management training more specific to his family’s business was behind Kevin Vander Spek’s decision to enroll in the Agri-Food Management Institute’s (AMI) Advanced Farm Management Program (AFMP) for grain farmers last winter.


He cash crops corn, wheat and soy on 1,000 acres, sharing land and labour with his in-laws who have a 100-cow dairy farm nearby. He also does about 500 acres of custom work and is responsible for 150 acres of hay for the dairy.


He’d long been attending conferences and education days to learn from experts but knew he was missing the link that connected what he was learning back to his own farm in Haldimand County.


Reading about the AFMP in the Grain Farmers of Ontario magazine convinced Vander Spek to give the program with its specially adapted, grain-focused curriculum a try. It covers topics from strategic thinking and assessing and managing risk in your operation to human resources, calculating business ratios and tracking your farm’s financial performance. The course runs over five separate one-day sessions, giving participants the chance to apply the learnings to their own businesses.


The course was launched by AMI in 2012 as a generic farm management program, but has been customized for specific commodities in the last several years, including dairy, grains, direct farm marketers and dairy goats.


“The course was excellent. The material was relevant whether you have 200 or 10,000 acres and I could take home every class to my operation,” he says, believing that future growth in the ag industry will not be as rapid as it has been in recent years.


“Internal growth and improvement will be at the forefront of the growth that will happen and this course set the ground work for that. Self-evaluation, improvement and risk management are things we put aside to buy more land or get new machinery, but we will need those as an asset for our cash cropping industry in the future,” he adds.


The concepts of lean management and risk management were two of the biggest learnings for Vander Spek. He’d actually been using lean concepts – systematically looking for small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality – for a while, but found AFMP to be the first course to apply this directly to farming. And it’s where he’s making some changes to his corn crop this year too.


“I’m looking at nitrogen efficiency in my corn. We farm a low yield area on tougher ground and we’ll be marking, measuring and testing this year to see what impact timely application and split applications have on yield,” he says. “That was a lean management take-back for me: track these things and try to squeeze as much out of that nitrogen as possible.”


Another change is linked to risk management: ensuring that he has proper insurance and coverage in place for the elevator on his farm.


Vander Spek encourages fellow grain farmers to consider signing up for the course for the 2018-19 fall and winter season, but keeping an open mind is key.


“You can get a lot from this course if you come with the attitude that you are willing to learn,” he believes.


Information on the next Advanced Farm Management Program for grain farmers is available from AMI. The five day program will be held at the Elmhurst Inn in Ingersoll starting December 5, 2018. Tuition is $750.00 per person, with the second person from the same farm benefiting from a reduced tuition rate of $450.00. More information can be found at or by contacting AMI at or 519-822-6618.


AMI receives funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Visit

By Lilian Schaer