The need for collaboration in the local agricultural industry
“When we are at our best, we embody an incredible collaborative ethos in Saskatchewan. We are the province that pulls each other out of a snowy ditch or rebuilds the town rink. The world’s problems are so very large and we will never solve them individually. We need to work together—locally, provincially and federally. There has never been a more critical time to seek collaborative solutions,” says Shawn Moen.
Moen is the co-owner of 9 Mile Legacy Brewing and was a recent recipient of the Nuffield Canada Agricultural Scholarship. The Nuffield program is a prestigious professional, worldwide network that focuses on supporting travel-based research to observe best practices away from home in the agricultural sector. But what Moen most took away from his travels and research was not actually his original focus.
“I set out to look at effective incubation strategies to assist the scaling efforts of SME agri-processors–businesses much like our brewery. I think I initially thought that there would be an “a ha” technique or two that would assist individual companies to scale. What I found instead related to the power of effective clustering efforts and ecosystems with an authentic collaborative ethos. Collective resilience and success became the focus, rather than individual supports,” says Moen.
The Saskatchewan native has long roots in agriculture as the fifth generation to work his family grain farm near the town of Cabri, in the province’s southwest corner. Moen spent most of his research time across the Pacific Ocean in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and was blown away by the collaboration that occurred in many of the places he visited, most notably South Australia.
“I discovered that the focus on creating individual supports or capacity enhancements kind of misses the point. There will always be significant, cyclical disruption,” says Moen. “A better approach is to build sector resiliency by creating the conditions for authentic collaboration and collective success. The former may allow some tall poppies to grow ahead of the rest and achieve some degree of definable success (which is still vulnerable to disruption). The latter creates a sense of sector anti-fragility that allows for resiliency in the face of significant disruption and the creation of significant collective opportunity.”
Moen is quick to point out that business incubation models still play a valuable role in providing a solid foundation for start-ups and early-stage SMEs, but they have their limits.
“They are not the overall solution, but rather a piece in the overall puzzle,” says Moen. “It is wise to bake in a collaborative ethos into the structure to the greatest extent possible, so that it becomes an indelible part of the startup culture as a whole.”
Investing in our future
To support agricultural SMEs, as well as startups in other industries, it’s vital that the provincial and federal governments invest in local sector leadership.
“An incredible commonality that I observed in the places I visited was the role that local ‘collaborative champions’ played. These were people who were invested in the success of their friends and neighbours, committed to sector knowledge advancement, and had real skin in the game when it came to the advancement of their local business sector. Too often we leave the rise of sector leadership to chance—we have a real opportunity to invest in our local leaders in an effort to build industries and sectors and thereby grow our economy,” says Moen.
With the hugely impactful worldwide changes related to supply chain issues, inflation and COVID occuring, the importance of food security and the development of the local industry is more apparent than ever. Now is the time to be cultivating the SME agri-processing sector, and Moen expresses a serious need to level up the “agvalue” sector in Saskatchewan.
“We will get through this current stretch with perseverance and a sense of community. This is, of course, difficult to appreciate when one is on the front lines and experiencing the very real economic impacts,” says Moen, who highlights these issues as more reason to invest locally in leadership and community.
Moen is grateful for sponsors who believed in him and his project, as well as his parents and business partner and best friend, Garrett Pederson and the rest of the team at 9 Mile Legacy Brewing. Moen particularly points to the sacrifices made by his wife, Deyne, who supported him and their family while he was abroad.
Moen will be presenting on his research topic at the Nuffield annual general meeting during this year’s Canadian Western Agribition in Regina (November 20-25, 2023).