Business school no-till case shows complexity of tillage decisions

Farmers tested the delivery of the case for Ivy Business School

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Ivy Business School at Western University is aiming to include more agriculture cases for study by its business students.

But first, it recently hosted an evening for farmers and the sector to discuss one of the cases set for students to analyze, and professors there found it’s challenging to the level of us versus them.

Why it matters: Despite being a dominant sector of the economy, agriculture is often missing from business school analysis.

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Prof. Tima Bansal, of the Ivy Business School hosted the evening with about 60 farmers, soil health advocates and researchers recently at the university.

She presented results from a study on the economics of Ontario farmer.

It examines the motivation for Vince to look to no-till crops to solve issues on his farm. It looks at the economics and the debate between conventional and no-till farmers.

Bansal credited Bob Kerr, a Chatham-area farmer and soil health advocate, with encouraging the creation of a business case for students relating to farming and soil.

“Soil is invisible to business students,” said Bansal, but she said it is central to the economy and human health.

Bansal tried to set up the discussion as a dichotomy — farmers who supported tillage and those who don’t, but several in the group made the point that few farmers are no-till only and few farmers use a plow with every tillage opportunity.

“There are dozens of examples where you till in certain situations,” said Angela Straathof, of the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, adding that making the argument black and white, tillage or no-tillage is difficult. It will be a challenge to convince a farmer who tills to go completely no-till, but it isn’t difficult to get them to till less, she said.

However, Bansal had the group put together lists of environmental positives and negatives and economic positives and negatives for tillage and no-tillage that well-encapsulated why the issue is complex. Despite the many positives of no-till farming, including soil health, resiliency, less reliance on labour, inputs and machinery, it still has not caught on strongly in Ontario, and may even be in decline.

There’s complexity in no-till and Prof. Claudia Wagner-Riddle of the University of Guelph said that no-till needs a systems approach.

Warren Schneckenberger, an Eastern Ontario farmer, said his family’s farm moved to no-till because it couldn’t find the employees it needed, as tillage requires more time on the land.

However, he says that employees hired for a no-till operation need to have more skills.

Over the evening Bansal teased out the philosophical basis that often makes up the difference between farmers who use no-till and those who don’t. No-till is a longer-term strategy and will more often fall to farmers who own land and take a longer-term view. Farmers who till need consistency and control for their business needs.

The complexity of the issue will make the debate over no-till a well-argued case for business students.

About the author

Editor

John Greig

John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig

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