AMI provides resources and training for new farmers

Three Beginning Farmer workshops will be held this fall

Agriculture is a complex business and it’s particularly challenging when you’re first starting out. That reality has prompted the Agri-Food Management Institute to develop and support programming specifically for beginning farmers.

In recent years, they’ve supported the Progressive Dairy Operators’ Youth Business Workshop, and this fall they are offering a series of new workshops for beginning farmers based on the AMI resource, “Building your new farm launch plan”.

“Having a plan will set you up for success and help you weather future storms,” says AMI Executive Director Ashley Honsberger. “Even if you’ve grown up on a farm, there are always new things to learn that can help make your business more efficient, profitable or sustainable.”

That’s how the Youth Business Workshop helped Jen van der Meulen and her husband Theo, young dairy farmers who both took the course in 2016.

Jen, a registered veterinary technician, grew up on a beef and hog farm near Gorrie, whereas Theo’s family moved to an Ontario dairy farm from the Netherlands in 1988. Today, they milk 320 cows on the van der Meulen farm near Drayton and are in the process of completing a family farm transition from Theo’s parents.

“Growing up on our farm I was never involved in the business side and I didn’t take business in school, so I was just kind of thrown into it,” Jen explains. “We’re both big into continuing education so we took it at the same time.”

The curriculum covered topics like financial management, human resources, succession planning, and benchmarking, and fellow producers joined participants to share their experiences with the young farmers on various subjects.

The course taught the van der Meulens the importance of benchmarking their operation, and they’ve also changed how they hired staff in hopes of attracting the right, long-term candidates. But the biggest learnings came from the financial management topic and the end-of-workshop project that forced participants to apply their learnings to a real world scenario.

“We were building a new barn at the time so we used the information we learned to apply benchmarking and financial management around building a new barn and making it make sense from a business perspective,” she says. “The biggest eye opener for us was to learn your numbers and the terminology behind what your accountant or lender are saying to you.”

They’ve also built a good team of advisors, which includes their veterinarian, nutritionist, accountant, lender and Theo’s parents. What’s important, according to Jen, is not being afraid to switch advisors if the relationship isn’t a comfortable one or the needs of the farm business aren’t being served.

She advises other beginning farmers to invest in furthering their education, whether it’s taking a course like Youth Business Workshop or AMI’s Beginning Farmer program, or attending conferences, trade shows or education days.

“You can’t just walk in and be the CEO of a company but you’re expected to do it when you farm, so doing courses like this help you gain a bit of that expertise,” she says. “You can’t be an expert in everything but you will learn as you go.”

The AMI Beginning Farmer workshops will take place October 25 in Guelph, November 22 in Mount Forest, and November 27 in Belleville. For more information or to register, visit

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

By Lilian Schaer