Changes, accomplishments and new paths forged by your association
The past twelve months seen the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers undergo many changes – some significant, and some just a part of the natural evolution of our changing industry.
As they work for, and with, the agri-retailers of Canada to support the industry that feeds the world, CAAR has counted a number of successes, transitions and new partnerships that they are proud to share.
Back in the Black
“I would have to say the biggest achievement from this past year was coming back from a difficult year, financially, in 2014,” says Delaney Ross Burtnack, president and CEO of CAAR. “We posted a significant loss in 2014, but in 2015 we really turned that around and came in on budget. It was a big swing from the previous year end.”
There’s more to the story than the bottom line. Burtnack attributes much of the association’s financial success to CAAR’s productive and talented staff finding their rhythm as a unit.
“2015 was the first opportunity for our staff to really work together as a team, which is something we hadn’t been able to do since before the latest team member started,” she says. “Our improved collaborative efforts enabled us to find lots of internal efficiencies.”
Partnerships to Support Agri-Retail
The team was also able to look outward, exploring partnerships with different sister organizations and industry groups, and they also renewed their efforts to reach out to and connect with these organizations’ membership.
“There are so many different initiatives we were a part of this year,” says Burtnack. “Each one of these projects helps the agri-retail world in an important way, and I’m very proud that we got be a part of them.”
CAAR’s sister organizations share the association’s interest in collaborating, and in advancing agriculture as a whole in Canada. “That’s really what connects us,” she says. “These organizations recognize the value in working with retailers, and building a truly valuable network in order to advance the initiatives that benefit our industry. We appreciate that they are looking to do so in partnership with CAAR.”
Fertilizer Canada is an important partnership for CAAR, and one of their primary relationships in the agriculture industry. Their work with this organization has yielded several important projects, one of which was the Crop Management Forum held in Brandon, MB on Nov. 17 of last year.
The forum was a day-long event that communicated insights into crop management and agronomy to agri-retailers from across the Prairies. The event featured a 4R Nutrient Stewardship Agri-Retailer designation training seminar; a program which aims to help producers and retailers improve profitability, efficiencies and environmental stewardship.
Another program CAAR has assisted in bringing to Canada’s agri-retailers is the Investing in Certified Seed eLearning program, developed in conjunction with the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), which launched in January.
“This program demonstrates the value of certified seed to retailers, and help them with sales techniques,” says Burtnack.
“Seed retailers are important players in the value chain,” says Caroline Lafontaine, member services manager for the CSGA. “They are often the first, trusted voice seed buyers go to, so it becomes critical for retailers to take the training and understand what goes into certified seed, and the benefits it can bring to a farm.”
“We are delighted to partner with CAAR to make this tool available to their membership, and all retailers,” she says. “Educating our customers about the value of certified seed is a way to ensure Canada remains globally competitive, and has access to the best genetics and leading traits available.”
CAAR hosts the eLearning program on their website, caar.org, and provides a reduced rate for members.
Advocacy for membership is a very important part of the association’s mandate, and CAAR had the opportunity in 2015 to see success in several areas of importance to the agri-retail sector.
“Working closely with Fertilizer Canada, we successfully lobbied to have Transport Canada extend an equivalency certificate for nurse tanks,” says Burtnack. “In being allowed to use two decals instead of four, our members see a cost savings. As Transport Canada will discontinue this exemption beginning in June of 2017, CAAR has also confirmed the ability to use a smaller decal on the rounded ends of the tank, which solves a decal application problem some had been experiencing.”
A pesticide ban in Manitoba was an area of concern for retailers and producers, and CAAR contributed to having the ban reduced to a weed control regulation for lawns and adjacent areas through action with a coalition.
As well, in working with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, CAAR lobbied to have two extensions on the fall fertilizer deadline. “The weather cooperated and it made sense agronomically to apply during that period, so we were able to get two extensions for a total of ten days,” says Burtnack. “That was a big win, because our Manitoba members were able to help their customers complete their crucial fall fertilizer applications.”
A significant success that CAAR contributed to, and one which will continue to impact the future of Canadian agriculture, was lobbying for Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act. “Canada had fallen quite behind in terms of investment in seed technology,” says Burtnack. “We were among many stakeholders who lobbied for this important bill.”
“Even with the prospect of Bill C-18 passing, there were already new investments happening in Canada, in developing new seed technology,” she says. “This bill having passed opens up tremendous opportunity for companies to contribute to crop development in Canada. We, and the other organizations that lobbied for this bill, are working to get us that much closer to sustainably feeding nine billion people by 2050.”
Keeping members informed of developments at CAAR and in the industry is a high priority at the association, and they have put more processes in place to make sure the conversation is productive in both directions.
“We’ve done much more personal outreach to our members in 2015,” says Burtnack. “We want to know what they’re working on, what is important to them, and what keeps them up at night. We really want to incorporate their vision for the future of CAAR into our current and future goals, so that as we evolve we can become even more valuable to the agri-retailers of Canada.”
The past year saw a new communications strategy fall into place, including a new communications partner – Suckerpunch Creative – and upgrades to channels such as caar.org, the CAAR Network, and the online community as a whole.
“Our members are busy people, and their time is valuable,” she says. “We only want to deliver the information that is current, relevant and ultimately useful to those in the agri-retail industry. That’s where all of our communications are now headed.”
“The CAAR Network has transformed and is now a timely and valuable source of information that matters to our members, and starting in January 2016 has become a bi-weekly e-newsletter,” says Burtnack. “We look at all of the news that happens in the agriculture world at large, and curate the items that specifically pertain to this very specific audience – our members. This brings value to the organizations we serve by saving them time, and bringing them useful information.”
The Communicator magazine will take a stronger industry-centric approach as well, with articles that dig deeper into information CAAR members need and highlighting the stories that only the agri-retail sector can tell. Says Burtnack, “We want the magazine to continue to be the flagship of communications in the industry.”
The Communicator articles will now be posted directly on caar.org. Boasting vetted industry news, upcoming events of note, important association updates, online training programs, industry alerts and hard-hitting articles about the agriculture and agri-retail sector, the CAAR website has become the ultimate one-stop hub for the Canadian agri-retail world. “Our media continues to evolve to become much more integrated”, she says. “The goal is to have all of our communications channels function symbiotically, to ultimately enrich the experience of our members who read and use them.”
Produce and Protect
The newest addition to the CAAR communications lineup is Produce and Protect, a producer-targeted website that provides new ways for CAAR members to connect with customers. This forward-thinking platform, launched in January, creates a two-way conversation between agri-retailers and the producer sector.
“We are so excited about the possibilities that Produce and Protect brings to our sector,” says Burtnack. “It’s a multifaceted tool with tremendous benefits to both our members, and the producers who make up the main readership.”
ProduceandProtect.com features a nationwide agri-retailer member directory, and the news and events from the agri-retail sector that are relevant to producers. “This site enables us to form direct links between our members and the customers who are looking for them,” she says. “It also expands our understanding of producers’ perspectives and expectations of the agri-retail sector, and brings that information back to our association where we can use it to help improve our members’ business.”
A Fulfilling Venture
A project of note that saw considerable progress in 2015 is CAAR’s Operation Ag Careers. This inventive and insightful program, set to launch in the first half of 2016, aims to match exiting military personnel with careers in the agri-retail industry.
CAAR found a partner with a wide reach and a similar aim in the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC). “In introducing ourselves to the CAHRC, we realized that they were already working on an on-farm-specific program featuring a national agricultural job board – the scope of which is much larger than what Operation Ag Careers was initially conceived as,” says Burtnack.
“While CAHRC is primarily focused on on-farm employment, their intention was to eventually focus on off-farm as well. When we offered our assistance in reaching the off-farm sector through the program we began developing in 2013, CAAR and CAHRC realized that Operation Ag Careers will be a very logical offshoot of the larger program CAHRC already had under way.”
One valuable feature of the national job board will be an online “scraping” function that will find and re-post any Canadian agricultural job posting to the job board. The system will also offer a profile service, where applicants can complete a questionnaire about their existing skills and career goals, and be matched to appropriate job openings in the ag and agri-retail sector.
“That will be really helpful for the job seekers in particular, whether former military or not,” says Burtnack, “because at present they don’t often know exactly what’s out there in terms of agriculture career options. Many of them don’t consider agriculture at all – they assume it’s only about farming, and don’t realize that there’s an entire off-farm sector to the agriculture industry. It’s a great opportunity, and particularly applicable to former military candidates with highly diverse and transferable skill sets.”
CAAR Looks Forward
Burtnack sees an exciting – and busy – year ahead for CAAR. Technology, research, innovation and regulations continue to evolve, putting pressure on the agriculture and agri-retail sectors to follow suit. Farming operations are also growing, adding new logistical challenges to the work of the agri-retail industry. In the face of these challenges, and in responding to growing public scrutiny about how agriculture is managed, CAAR wants to arm their members with the most valuable weapon: knowledge.
“Having the knowledge, tools and awareness to be able to operate in the best way possible to serve farmers, ag and the public at large, is what our members will need, and how we are able to serve them,” she says. “There’s so much white noise around our industry, and that will only continue to grow, and to cause more stress to those who work in agriculture.”
“We see that as being CAAR’s biggest value. We help our members to filter the white noise, and to recognize the information that’s of the greatest importance to them – the information that will empower them to better run their business and serve their customers.”
Burtnack also sees the opportunity for enhanced knowledge of agri-retailers’ customers through CAAR’s implementation of producer-facing communications.
“Produce and Protect will really bring that in-depth knowledge of what producers are looking for, which in turn will provide our members with invaluable information,” she says. “The kind of insight we can get from analytics and user feedback will give our members the tools they need to succeed in this evolving industry.”
The benefits of added value for members will also contribute to one of CAAR’s ongoing goals, which is a key area of focus in 2016: growing their membership in Canada’s agri-retail sector. “The more members we connect with, the more we can do for them,” says Burtnack. “As we grow our connections, we can learn more about what the sector is facing and disseminate this information to our membership to help them face the future.”
“We see a bright future for CAAR, and for the agri-retail sector as a whole,” she says. “The new possibilities we are seeing from technology and crop innovation are so fascinating. We are moving deeper into a digital age, but bringing this back to the soil and the roots of the work our industry has always stewarded. And we think CAAR is the perfect partner for agri-retailers to have in this new landscape. We are here as a trusted partner, a support system and a communications hub. Our members are working in the most important industry in the world... it’s our duty and our humbling privilege to enable them to succeed.”
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