A Critique of the Role of Counseling Consultant - the Case of Young Farmer Project Advisory

A Critique of the Role of Counseling Consultant - the Case of Young Farmer Project Advisory

Yun-Shan Huang (China Productivity Center Agriculture Innovation Department)

To construct a young, dynamic, and highly competitive yet stable LOHAS agricultural sector and to promote new forms of start-ups for incoming agribusinesses, cultural creative industries, and social enterprises while aiming for­ high technological involvement and globalization, organizations are applying for programs such as Entrepreneurship Inspiration (The Farmer’s Academy’s entry-level, intermediate-level, advanced level, and upper-advanced level training), Goal Advisory (Young farmer project-based learning assistance and establishment of an exchange platform), Investment and Financing Assistance (Promotion of Agribusiness Start-up Loans for Youths), and Innovative Research & Development (SBIR, SIIR, CITD, and Agriculture and Technology Industry-Academia Collaboration, Strengthening of the Agricultural Innovation Incubation Center Service Energy Program). The goal is to calibrate the agricultural structure, cultivate new agricultural talents, and consolidate resource for value-added development.

Recently, the Taiwanese agriculture sector has been actively cultivating a new generation of young farmers. In both 2013 and 2014, government agencies selected 200 young farmers and provided them with project-based counseling on topics such as production technology, production and marketing, and financial management. In addition to project-based counseling, the agricultural sector is also active in establishing local young farmer organizations to provide a platform for more agricultural youths in receiving help. Moreover, the government agencies continue to conduct rolling reviews during the process of counseling and provide young farmers with more resources to help them launch their startups and operations, thereby accelerating the startup process.

However, since the background and personalities of young farmers are not the same, the methods of counseling differ as well. Some well-educated scholars enter the agricultural sector after a thorough risk analysis and thus possess sufficient pre-requisite knowledge. Others enter the industry with blind optimism and dream, only looking for resources after entering the agriculture sector. Some are second-generation farmers who merely inherit the family business but understand operations better than their parents. In response to these vastly different cases, agricultural counseling and consulting have major hurdles to overcome.

According to the Chinese Human Resource Management Association Journal, consultants need to provide clients with opinions on management decision making, lower the risk of information asymmetry in management decision making, as well as decrease both consultant and client’s expectation differences. Also, serving as a firm’s staff and external auditor and a bridge between the industry and specialty, consultants need to continue to improve their service (Huang et al., 2011). According to the consultant training data of Tainan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station in 2014, counseling can often be categorized into consultation, assistance, response observation, coaching, direct education, technological consultation, partnership, demonstration, interventive consultation, and et cetera. We can discover that the extent of consultant involvement varies according to a young farmer’s experience. Consultants often employ consultation, assistance, and response observation methods for highly experienced young farmers. On the other hand, consultants often provide consultancy in the form of demonstration and interventive consultation for novice young farmers. (Tainan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station, 2014)

This paper will attempt to understand different types of counseling processes and the role of consultants through a variety of case studies.

Immediate Consultation and Problem Response

Case background: Mr. A is an optimistic and active young farmer. With a clear vision and plan, Mr. A understands his needs, researches material from a variety of different sources, and often exchanges ideas with his consultant. The consultant responds to Mr. A’s needs by helping his search for resources.

Consultant’s role: Because the young farmer either discusses his own ideas and questions with the consultant or responds immediately to important or unfamiliar problems, the consultant serves as an “information library” who offers suggestions or appropriate stop mechanisms such that the young farmer stays on track. The consultant responds to important problems immediately and offers appropriate resource assistance.

Demonstrative Teaching

Case background: Mr. B has been in agriculture for many years and possesses satisfactory production skills. However, he is in a slump for certain areas. The consultant goes to the young farmer’s farm, teaches him various production methods, and frees him from his bottleneck.

Consultant’s role: Because the young farmer is not familiar with technology or is in a technological slump, the consultant plays the role of a “demonstrator” who physically demonstrates harvesting techniques at every step. This will increase the young farmer’s confidence in his harvest and earning.

Onsite Education

Case background: Because Mr. C does not have adequate knowledge and has issues with obtaining farmlands, the team suggests Mr. C to intern at the consultant’s farm in preparation for future business plans while learning relative skills and looking for appropriate farmlands.

Consultant’s role: The consultant plays the role of a “coach” who assists and offers the young farmer an agricultural operation blueprint of his own by allowing an internship opportunity at the consultant’s farm.

Visits and Cross-field Cooperation

Case background: After joining the project advisory program, Mr. D and his consultant review both successful and failed cases of agricultural startup farmers and share his thoughts and opinions with other young farmers.

Consultant’s role: The consultant serves as a “guide” who uses successful and failed cases to let young farmers understand the success and failure behind each story. The consultant also utilizes group discussion to lead young farmers into thinking whether there are any possible improvements to be made regarding their own operations.

Sales Channel Expansion

Case background: There are two cases to discuss. For Mr. E, he has stable agricultural production and aspires to learn sales. He first collaborates with the consultant’s existing sales channel, expands his sales channels, and then slowly develops his own business model and corresponding sales channels. For Mr. F, he has developed his own e-commerce platform and shares it with his consultant; they are partners in expanding sales channels.

Consultant’s role: The consultant serves as both a “collaborator” and a “business partner.” To increase the young farmer’s confidence and stabilize the farmer’s basic income, the consultant promises to purchase all of the young farmer’s produce during the period of consultation. This process lets the young farmer establish and develop his own sales channel. Moreover, the consultant collaborates with young farmers in using e-commerce platforms to sell agricultural products while discussing methods on sales, becoming business partners in the process.

Generation Gap

Case background: Mr. G is unable to completely dictate his finance, human resource management, and mode of operation due to conflicts with senior owners within the family either due to owners’ non-acceptance of the young farmer’s operating methods or because senior owners have yet to relinquish control of the firm.

Consultant’s role: The consultant plays the role of a “mediator” that establishes a positive image for the young farmer before the current owners. The consultant will convey the young farmer’s idea and merits to the senior owners within the family and convince the owners to allow the young farmer to partake in some areas of operations. The consultant will lead the young farmer in small projects, yield excellent produce, and help the young farmer earn the senior owners’ respect.

Table of Young Farmer Case Type and Consultant’s Role

Types of Cases Roll of the Consultant
Demonstrative Teaching Role of a “demonstrator”
On-site Education Role of a “coach”
Visits and Cross-field Cooperation Role of a “guide”
Sales Channel Expansion Role of a “collaborator” and a “business partner”
Generation Gap Role of a “mediator”

Source: Compiled from this article

By examining the role of consultants through various case studies, we learned that the role of a consultant aligns with the sources, that is, to provide operation advice to transparentize information and lead young farmers to have sustainable production and operation.

In response to the agricultural policies of the Council of Agriculture (COA) of Executive Yuan, we advocate for a multi-faceted agricultural policy that heeds both domestic agricultural grower and its corresponding supportive industry’s growth that will develop our traditional “Production Agriculture” into “New-value-chain Agriculture.” The project will categorize types of counseling cases through the value chain, providing strategies according to different types of problems. The consultants break young farmers into categories of “stable production,” “production, marketing, and processing,” and “value-added services” depending on the production, sales, processing, and service of each case, and, offer appropriate consultation through teamwork and innovative plans. The plan will manage young farmers in an organized manner and open a path of management success for agribusinesses. Although 100 young farmer’s business, as well as the content of consultation still lie heavily on production technology after a year and a half time of counseling, many young farmers have grown and run stable operations.