It’s invigorating to learn new things and meet enthusiastic people, and I’ve had a good winter dose of that this year! Broadening horizons is good for the view.
I had the opportunity to do some video work for Farm Credit Canada at the Pacific Ag show in Abbotsford, B.C. It’s their version of our Agri-Trade, with all kinds of agriculture equipment and technology on display in the Tradex, which is right next to the Abbotsford airport.
Farming looks much different out there. I learned Abbotsford is actually the agricultural capital of Canada! Farms in the region create more dollars per acre than in any other municipality, because of the high-value crops and livestock raised there, like berries, poultry and vegetables.
Sure, I’ve picked berries on the farm or in the wild, but always by hand. Out there, I got to sit high above the trade show floor on the Cadillac of berry harvesters, a large machine where up to six workers can be situated on the platform.
The pulsating fingers below gently remove the ripe berries from the bushes so they can be airlifted up top for packing. (The machinery rep knew I was from the Prairies when I compared it to a combine!)
I learned about Canadian cherries now being exported to China, and innovations in dairy manure management that can turn slurry into fertilizer without losing the nutrients by squeezing out the water.
I learned there are new greenhouse coverings that might make it possible to grow strawberries in the winter on the Prairies.
It was definitely a different take on agriculture for me. Reminds me of the old saying, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” But the thread I did still recognize was innovative folks who are passionate about the business of producing food.
Speaking of passionate, enthusiastic people, checking in with the Outstanding Young Farmer Program will always give you those. This year’s Alberta/NWT regional program was held in Banff.
Last year’s winners, Richard and Nicole Brousseau, were still overflowing with excitement about their trip to the National Program, which was held in November in Quebec City. They found being bilingual was a real asset for them there, but they both said it was so refreshing to see the other honorees from across the country working to speak French, while the Quebec couple practised their English.
They came home with new lifelong friends, and a greater awareness of the variety in farming across Canada, as well as the common challenges producers of all types face.
At Banff, the Brousseaus shared the presentation they’d given at the national event on their Moo-lait dairy farm at St. Paul, including the priority they put on school tours and interacting with non-farmers about their work.
“I think the biggest thing we like so much about this group is the people we’ve met,” commented Richard Brosseau. “But at the same time, we see winning it as a responsibility. We’re ag ambassadors. We use that now. It’s our responsibility to be out there and be a voice, and we really like that aspect.”
There were three nominees for this year’s regional competition, who took part in the Banff event. Randy and Tasha Alexander are grain farmers at Grimshaw, while Kurt and Becky Pederson raise crops and purebred Angus cattle at Edgerton. Patrick and Cherylynn Bos of Ponoka rounded out the trio, and after the interviews, discussions and judging, they were named the honorees for 2015.
This young couple has a very unique operation. T
heir Rock Ridge Dairy has grown into a thriving goat dairy and processing plant, with the addition of cheese-making now as well.
“Change is the only constant on our farm,” smiled Cherylynn.
“This spring, we’re going to be introducing our new rotary parlor, which will be the first of its kind in North America. We’ll see our operation changing from milking about 180 goats per hour to 900. So we have international interest in that venture.”
Patrick explained that while they’re milking 600 goats now, the new equipment should allow them to double that in the future, expanding their milk and cheese production.
Barns are being built, and readied for the spring arrival of the milking parlor. So with all that going on, why bother getting involved in the OYF? It’s a process that requires some considerable reflection and evaluation of their farm. Both Patrick and Cherilynn believe the effort is well worth it.
“It was just really great to meet a group of people so optimistic and upbeat about farming,” she said. “We hope to build some lifelong relationships and friendships.”
“They can be refreshing. Their attitude rubs off and keeps you stimulated in what you’re doing,” added Patrick. “Sometimes when you work so hard you feel all alone in the world. Then when you meet other people who are just like you, it’s like, ‘Great, I have a group of peers that can mentor us or be friends with us.’
“We still have the same issues in agriculture, whether you’re dealing with the bank, or with government, or with crops, that all of us face.”
The Boses are excited about representing the Alberta region at the 2015 National Outstanding Young Farmers event, which is coming this November to Edmonton.
And, just in case you missed it, Feb. 6 was officially Food Freedom Day in Canada. That’s the day the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has calculated the average Canadian has earned enough to pay for their annual grocery bill. For 2015, it’s looking like Canadians will spend just 10.6 per cent of their disposable income on food.
“Farmers are very proud that we are productive enough to make an abundant supply of safe, nutritious food available for a small portion of the average Alberta family’s income. It wasn’t too long ago that Canadians were spending closer to 18 per cent of their disposable income on food,” said Grace MacGregor, a member of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture Board, who farms near Hughenden.
It’s never too late to celebrate an occasion like Food Freedom Day, and you can do so by enjoying a good meal, and being grateful for the farmers’ role in producing it!
Dianne Finstad is a veteran broadcaster and reporter who has covered agricultural news in Central Alberta for more than 30 years. From the Field appears monthly in the Advocate.