In the last edition of the Canadian Farm Manager, Saskatchewan farmer John Coté wrote about how he handled the personal challenges he faced after leaving grain farming to develop a fruit operation and micro-distillery.

He said he had been inspired by profiles in CFM of farmers who have embraced change, but suggested taking a look at the other side of the coin, too.

“It would be nice to sometimes see stories on people who don’t change, but don’t change for a reason,” said Coté.

He cited one of his favourite business books, Good to Great, which looks at leading corporations and what made them top performers. Author Jim Collins concluded the common element was knowing what you could be best at, what makes you money, and what you’re passionate about. In short, Collins advises, understand and build on your strengths.

That is the focus of three stories in this edition. The success of goat-cheese maker Mariposa Dairy stems from Sharon and Bruce VandenBerg’s desire to find people who were better than they were at tasks such as marketing and production, so they could focus on what they did best. Luc Decubber had a skill that was critical in making Canneberges Bécancour the fifth-largest cranberry farm in Québec – and he knew it didn’t involve driving a tractor. And while the members of the Manitoba Forage Marketers are experts at growing and selling hay, they decided they would get even better by banding together and learning from each other.

All of these producers can look back over the years and talk about how focusing on their core strengths proved to be the right strategy. But what about those in the early part of their farm careers? How do young farmers discover what they’re best at?

Drew Fowler and Yan Berthiaume have framed that question in a different way. Both say agriculture is changing so rapidly, the ability to learn needs to be one of a farmer’s core strengths. Fowler learned a whole new way to approach the issue of succession, while Berthiaume plunged into a whole new type of livestock production when the family decided to take the farm business in a new direction.

Leveraging the physical assets of a farm has always been critical. The people featured in this edition of CFM take the same approach when it comes to themselves and their management abilities.