Should you get a second opinion on farm business decisions?
Seeking a second opinion can be a prudent on-farm decision-making measure, but beware being engulfed by a tidal wave of viewpoints.
Farm businesses are more complex than ever before and require vast assortments of decisions, many of which involve greater quantities of money, people and regulations.
“It makes sense that we need to gather more information, trusted advice and consider more options before making key decisions,” says BDO Canada’s national agricultural practice development leader, Maggie Van Camp.
Soliciting another perspective is a way to build a business case, she says.
“A confirmation and more information can give you confidence in your primary advisor and your decisions and allows you to prove to others that it’s the right thing to do,” Van Camp says.
She adds that today’s communication capabilities allow farmers to seek advice from other parts of the country, and champions going with someone with agricultural expertise and a good reputation over proximity.
“Talk to trusted family or friends for a referral,” recommends Liz Robertson, executive director of the Canadian Association of Farm Advisors. “I think word of mouth brings a greater element of trust when hiring an advisor.”
For larger decisions or ones touching on untried areas, a second or even third opinion can be very useful, says Van Camp.
Robertson thinks it’s a good idea for an inter-disciplinary advisory team to consider bigger, ongoing decisions. It can include your accountant, lawyer, banker, financial planner, insurance agent, agronomist and veterinarian, among others.
“Inter-disciplinary teams are invaluable as no single profession or group has all the knowledge, training and resources to fully address all issues facing farm families and businesses,” Robertson says.
Too many voices
The practice of seeking a second opinion originated as a way of exercising prudence and overcoming confirmation bias or a conflict of interest.
Glen Fox, an agriculture and natural resource economist at the University of Guelph, says the process of how to obtain a second opinion has changed. Opinions on many decisions are now easily within reach of one’s fingertips. Fox says search engines often turn up opinions from first-hand experiences, rather than professional judgements.
Farmers now face a situation of having almost too many opinions to process.
“But in processing all of this information, it makes us think more clearly about what it is we are trying to accomplish,” Fox points out.
Van Camp, however, prefers seeking opinions from one or two trusted, qualified sources who understand farming over 20 unqualified people: “It just muddles the decision-making process.”
Getting a second opinion on major farm decisions takes time but can help clarify options and possibly save errors and regrets. Be choosy about selecting sources for second opinions, and don’t just rely on search engine results. Find experts by asking for references from friends and family, experts say.