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November 2011 $3.50

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NOVEMBER 2011

FEATURES 8

BOOK REVIEW Instead of complaining about cities, it turns out we need to start copying them.

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CUTTING EDGE Harry Schulz is ready to operate on agriculture, bringing the skills to the farm that he has used to bag mega-dollars for medical inventions.

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YOUNG AND IN MOTION At 26, Melanie Sommers is running one of Canada’s largest dairy farms, and plotting business strategies for a future free market.

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RENT TO GROW Jordan Kambeitz sees renting from the big farmland trusts as his springboard to economies of scale. At 30, he’s farming 10,000 acres, and plans for more.

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THE CITY QUESTION Gwen Donohoe is exactly the kind of person that agriculture wants for its next generation of farmers. So why is she living the city life?

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Young and BOLD, STARTING PAGE 14 For years, their parents wondered whether our 20-somethings would ever measure up on the farm. Well, they’re here now, and they’re rewriting all the old rules. Don’t believe it? Then check out this issue full of profiles, and get ready to learn some new tricks.

WHAT IS IT YOUNG PEOPLE WANT ANYWAY?

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LISTENING IN Gen Yers like Sarah and Logan Wray are already flexing their farm muscles. You just might not know it if your aren’t linked in.

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YOUNG EMPLOYEES TOO At 32, Jeff Vermeersch knows how to get more from his Gen Y employees by acknowledging they’re as different from the Boomer generation as he is.

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MORE, MORE, MORE Case IH execs tell our Scott Garvey what to expect from the big manufacturers in the next five years.

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MACHINERY GUIDE These small tractors deliver big results, but it can be tough to make right choice.

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HANSON ACRES Dale remembers talking his own father to accept change. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

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GUIDE HEALTH Sssshh… Marie Berry talks about the unmentionable, your GI tract.

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PETUNIA VALLEY After a year of flooding, the boys head to the marsh for some hunting. This is Christmas?

THE BEST FAMILY FARMS Hutterite farms are misunderstood, mistrusted, and often very, very successful. Gerald Pilger sets out to learn their lessons.

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NEW FARM LESSONS Those new wannabe farmers emerging out of our biggest cities might not be so different from Canada’s oldest farm families after all.

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EVERY ISSUE

CANADIANS IN RUSSIA Retired and looking for a challenge? How about working in Russia to help farmers there start climbing the technology ladder.

NOVEMBER 2011

Our commitment to your privacy At Farm Business Communications we have a firm commitment to protecting your privacy and security as our customer. Farm Business Communications will only collect personal information if it is required for the proper functioning of our business. As part of our commitment to enhance customer service, we may share this personal information with other strategic business partners. For more information regarding our Customer Information Privacy Policy, write to: Information Protection Officer, Farm Business Communications, 1666 Dublin Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R3H 0H1. Occasionally we make our list of subscribers available to other reputable firms whose products and services might be of interest to you. If you would prefer not to receive such offers, please contact us at the address in the preceding paragraph, or call 1-800-665-1362.

CONTENTS

Contributing editor Anne Lazurko finds farmers like Andrew Monchuk, 30, are crystal clear about their strengths, and their challenges too.

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desk EDITORIAL STAFF Editor: Tom Button 12827 Klondyke Line, Ridgetown, ON N0P 2C0 (519) 674-1449 Fax (519) 674-5229 Email: tom.button@fbcpublishing.com Associate Editors: Maggie Van Camp (905) 986-5342 Fax (905) 986-9991 Email: bmvancamp@fbcpublishing.com Gord Gilmour (204) 944-5756 Fax (204) 942-8463 Email: gord.gilmour@fbcpublishing.com ADVERTISING SALES Kelly Dundas (519) 619-2140 Email: kelly.dundas@fbcpublishing.com Cory Bourdeaud’hui (204) 954-1414 Cell (204) 227-5274 Email: cory@fbcpublishing.com Head Office: 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, MB R3H 0H1 (204) 944-5765 Fax (204) 944-5562 Advertising Services Co-ordinator: Arlene Bomback (204) 944-5765 Fax (204) 944-5562 Email: ads@fbcpublishing.com

Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine

Is this the last generation? The facts seem arrayed all against our young farmers. Economics is no friend, especially the massive capitalization required to generate a living income. Social trends aren’t helping either, starting with the fact that this is the first generation whose parents recognize they deserve a healthy retirement. In a way, the job is against them too. Today’s 55- and 60-year-olds think of the kinds of decisions that keep them awake at night, and they tally the hours that they must put into farm management and then they sometimes shake their heads, wondering what this job has to do with the job they thought they were signing on for. These parents look at the photos of graduates from our ag colleges and wonder how long they’ll still be smiling. But that’s why it’s good to talk to the kids themselves. If you’re looking for self pity, you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you want self-awareness though, and if you want a clear-eyed understanding of the realities of farming, you will find it here in spades, more than in any preceeding generation, including their parents’. We aren’t wearing rose-coloured glasses. We know that the number of sons and daughters from this generation who make it as farmers will be much smaller than the number of their parents who are retiring. We also know that many of these new farmers will farm in ways that are unrecognizeable to their parents. But if you question their commitment, or if you doubt their ability to succeed, do please read the stories in this issue, and then flip through some back 4 country-guide.ca

issues as well (and keep your subscription up to date too, because we are determined to keep bringing you stories about young farmers). What we’re all learning is, if you’re in your 50s or 60s, optimism is your job. Here’s one example why. I got a recent call from an Alberta purebred cattle producer in his late 50s with a prosperous farm and a good reputation. He has four children, none wanting to stay on the farm, but he wants the farm to continue and would like nothing so much as to find a young person to work and buy into it over time. Not surprisingly, it has been a struggle to find that young person, not because they don’t exist, but because our ag communities are so spread out now, we no longer have a way to get the news about such opportunities out to our young hopefuls. How this can be in an agriculture that has new program announcements rolling out of Ottawa and the provincial capitals every other day and that has more commodity organizations collecting and spending more fees and checkoff is hard if not impossible to fathom. Some boards are making progress, and they’re to be congratulated. But the point is, the kids are doing their part. Now, more of their parents generation need to realize optimism isn’t an emotion, it’s a job, and like every job of the farm, it’s to be approached with energy, commitment and innovation. Let us know if we’re getting it right. Reach me at tom.button@fbcpublishing.com or call me at 519-674-1449.

Publisher: Bob Willcox Email: bob.willcox@fbcpublishing.com Associate Publisher/Editorial Director: John Morriss Email: john.morriss@fbcpublishing.com Production Director: Shawna Gibson Email: shawna@fbcpublishing.com Assistant Production Manager: Farrah Wilson Email: farrah@fbcpublishing.com Director of Sales and Circulation: Lynda Tityk Email: lynda.tityk@fbcpublishing.com Circulation Manager: Heather Anderson Email: heather@fbcpublishing.com Designer: Jenelle Jensen Contents of this publication are copyrighted and may be reproduced only with the permission of the editor. Country Guide, incorporating the Nor’West Farmer and Farm & Home, is published by Farm Business Communications. Head office: Winnipeg, Manitoba. Printed by Transcontinental LGMC. Country Guide is published 12 times per year by Farm Business Communications.  Subscription rates in Canada — $32 for one year, $49 for 2 years (prices include GST). U.S. subscription rate — $35 (U.S. funds). Subscription rate outside Canada and U.S. — $50 per year. Single copies: $3.50. Publications Mail Agreement Number 40069240. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Periodical Fund of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Canadian Postmaster: Return undeliverable Canadian addresses (covers only) to: Circulation Dept., PO Box 9800, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 3K7. U.S. Postmaster: Send address changes and undeliverable addresses (covers only) to: Circulation Dept., PO Box 9800, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 3K7. Subscription inquiries:

Call toll-free 1-800-665-1362 or email: subscription@fbcpublishing.com U.S. subscribers call 1-204-944-5766 Country Guide is printed with linseed oil-based inks PRINTED IN CANADA Vol. 130 No. 12 Internet address: www.agcanada.com

ISSN 1915-8491 The editors and journalists who write, contribute and provide opinions to Country Guide and Farm Business Communications attempt to provide accurate and useful opinions, information and analysis. However, the editors, journalists, Country Guide and Farm Business Communications, cannot and do not guarantee the accuracy of the information contained in this publication and the editors as well as Country Guide and Farm Business Communications assume no responsibility for any actions or decisions taken by any reader for this publication based on any and all information provided.

november 2011


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Machinery

By Philip Shaw

Small tractors promise big results. Increasingly, they deliver on those promises too, especially if you match the right tractor to the job. Be forewarned though. This isn’t as easy as you might think. The days when every small tractor was basically the same as every other small tractor are long gone. Today’s small tractor segment (under 120 hp) is evolving rapidly.

CASE INTERNATIONAL MAXXUM SERIES

MASSEY FERGUSON 5400 SERIES

The Case International Maxxum series brings eight models from 90 to 120 horsepower. According to the company, these fourand six-cylinder models are powerful, versatile and economical, and offer more flexibility, maneuverability and comfort to meet the needs of today’s operators. The Maxxum 110, 115 and 125 models feature mechanical engines with minimal electronics for simple control and horsepower without extras. They are mechanically governed, with a rotary fuel-injected pump with two valves per cylinder. The five Maxxum “Pro” models use an electronic rail fuel system and four values per cylinder to generate more power and faster response along with improved fuel economy, lower noise and reduced exhaust. The Maxxum Pro Cab offers a deluxe air-ride seat with adjustable armrests and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. A turn assist option gives the operator the ability to fully turn the tractor with a 10-degree twist, reducing operator effort and at the same time increasing efficiency. www.caseih.com

Massey Ferguson offers nine models in their 5400 series ranging from 86 to 145 horsepower. It’s a series that the company describes as technologically advanced, high powered and economical to operate. The MF 5400 series is powered by four and six cylinder engines. A Power Boost feature increases torque at six km/hr. in the third and fourth range, which adds even more power to their operation. The series also features the Dyna-4 transmission’s 16F/16R semi power shift gearbox with left hand Power Control Speed matching. Maximum speed is 40 km/hr. There are also creep (eight more gears) and super creep (16 more gears) options for applications which need very low speeds. The MF 5425 and 5455 feature sloping hoods, providing greater visibility for tasks that require a loader or any other front mounted equipment. www.masseyferguson.com

KUBOTA M SERIES  Kubota’s M Series brings four models topped out by the M135X, Kubota’s most powerful M-Series tractor with a 374-cubic-inch, turbocharged direct injection diesel engine that generates 118 PTO horsepower. According to Kubota’s Christian Bisson, the M-Series tractors feature added power, torque and an electronic common rail fuel system for more power, less noise and reduced emissions. The M100X and M110X are powered by a 3.8-litre engine, while the M126X and M135X are built on the new four-cylinder 6.1-litre design. The 16F/16R Intelli-Shift transmission offers an eight-speed dual-range power shift of 16 gears forward and reverse, plus hydraulic shuttle and a standard wet main clutch. The Kubota M-Series also features new dashinstrumentation with an LCD panel that displays engine information, fuel efficiency, travel direction and gear selection. The Electronic Management System (K-EMS) is an electronic engine control system, including a computerized governor control to manage engine RPM. www.kubota.com 6 country-guide.ca

NOVEMBER 2011


New Holland T6000 Series  New Holland’s T6000 series ranges from 90 to 135 horsepower in three different configurations, the Delta, Plus and Elite models. The result is a series that the company says is a natural for haying operations, heavy loader work, roadside mowing and row crop applications. Delta models are the series base, with Plus models bringing all the standard features plus a semi-power shift transmission, higher capacity closed centre hydraulic system and the Horizon cab with added comfort features. The Elite configuration delivers top of the line comfort and performance features including engines with Electronic Power Management Power Boost, Custom Headland Management and Electronic Draft Control systems. On Elite T6000 models the New Holland Custom Headland Management System stores up to 28 tasks, including transmission upshift/downshift, engine speed, engage/disengage constant RPM cruise control, three-point hitch and electrohydraulic valve operation. This allows the operator to make headland turns with a touch of a button, reducing repetitive tasks on headlands and lessening operator fatigue. www.newholland.com

Challenger MT400B Series  Challenger’s MT 400B series is designed to offer more torque, more control, more serviceability and more fuel efficiency for today’s farm operators, all in four models from 75 to 100 PTO horsepower. MT400 Series tractors are powered by new generation Cat ACERT Tier III engines. As well, a new front-axle support casting on the six-cylinder MT 475B means you can add a fully

N o v ember 2 0 1 1

integrated front three-point hitch, with the extra option of a 1,000-r.p.m. PTO. All MT400 Series models feature narrow, sloping hoods for enhanced visibility. Inside, analog gauges and an instrument panel provide a simple but powerful information centre in cabs that can be outfitted with an optional air-ride seat with armrests and an instructor seat. www.challenger-ag.us

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BOOK REVIEW

TRIUMPH OF THE CITY: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier

Edward Glaeser The Penguin Press 338 pages $24.75 at Chapters Reviewed by Tom Button, CG Editor

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o matter what the book title says, those of us in rural Canada have always thought that agriculture is humanity’s “greatest invention,” just as we have always thought that it is farming — and definitely not cities — that make the world “richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier.” We might still be right, but don’t expect to have much luck convincing Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser, who says the facts are very stubbornly on his side. Indeed, we might even have trouble convincing ourselves, especially if we grapple with the issue, as Glaeser does, of why in the era of electronic communication — an age when no one needs to live in those expensive, dirty, crimeridden cities — cities are growing faster than ever, and rural depopulation continues. Too few of us ask what we can learn from cities, Glaeser says. We still think of cities basically as dormitories for factories and office towers. But in the same way that we know agriculture isn’t really about seed or tractors — it’s about the farmers who decide how to use those seeds and tractors — cities are all about how great ideas get born and nurtured. 8 country-guide.ca

Besides, our preconceptions are all wrong anyway. Cities aren’t dirty and unhealthy. Glaeser’s evidence is from the U.S., but a quick Internet check suggests the numbers are similar in Canada. A century ago, an average Kansas boy could expect to outlive a New Yorker by seven years. Today, the New York boy can expect to live a year and a half longer than the Kansan, and urban life expectancy keeps going up while rural statistics are stagnant. Nor is serious crime worse in cities, or suicide, or any other measurable quality-of-life variable. In fact, the stats all favour the city. Also higher in successful cities is income. Cities, it turns out, are amazingly successful at converting ideas into money. As Glaeser says, 600,000 Americans work in the one mile of Manhattan between 41st and 59th streets, and they each earn an average of over $100,000, nearly three times the national rate. As you might expect, 40 per cent of them work in the financial sector, and fewer and fewer actually work with anything that most of us would recognize as things at all. Clothing factories are almost non-existent, for instance, but this is the home of the great design shops, including the Calvin Kleins and Donna Karans that are world standards. And while those of us in agriculture might think this leaves New York vulnerable to fickle fads and trends, it’s actually the cities that depend on manufacturing — such as Detroit and Buffalo — that are suffering. New York’s wages have climbed all through the recession. So have London's. The reason is because people in cities are always talking and interacting, and new technology is making them even better at it. There were brave claims a decade ago that electronics would let people live wherever they like, but as Glaeser explains, it turns out most e-traffic actually stays inside cities. People use cell phones to stay in touch with people they see in person. They text friends and colleagues, and they email people they've already met. In other words, electronic communication makes cities even more competitive compared to the countryside, because not only do people in cities talk more, they bring a much more diverse set of backgrounds, ideas, assumptions and ambitions to the mix. After all, Glaeser argues, most new ideas are actually new combinations of old ideas.

This may be the more serious challenge for farmers. It’s easy to hitch a BlackBerry on your hip and keep it buzzing with new emails and chock full of apps to keep you up on the latest developments, wherever in the world they occur. But how likely is your BlackBerry to make you new friends in the shoe business, the financial software sector, the publishing industry and elsewhere? COUNTRY GUIDE has set aside considerable space in this issue to look at the state of farming from the vantage point of young farmers. In that context, here is a book that should arguably be on the curriculum at every ag college and university, although it probably is on none. Arguably it is a book too that every farm couple should at least ponder over if they are wondering how to get their children started on a successful farming career. Unless farmers make deliberate efforts to broaden their connections, Glaeser seems to be saying, agriculture will get left behind. “Our culture, our prosperity and our freedom are all ultimately gifts of people living, working and thinking together,” Glaeser says. It’s an interesting idea. Probably we should go to the city and talk to him about it. CG NOVEMBER 2011


If it’s ag we finance it Local office 1-800-387-3232

“We see FCC as our partners – they support young farmers.” Lance Stockbrugger See more stories at www.fcc.ca/advancing

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business

Like a lot of farmers, medical researcher Mark Torchia needed funding. Now, the strategy that earned cash for his medical probe might net big dollars for agriculture too.

Cutting edge Can Prairie Fire help farmers tap the funds that earn millions for medical research?

n September 2008, Mark Torchia found himself in an operating theatre at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, holding his breath. The Winnipeg-based professor, researcher and medical device specialist was about to see the result of several years of hard work by himself and a team with members from the St. Boniface General Hospital, the University of Manitoba, and Monteris Medical. A new medical device was meeting its first living patient. The surgeons had drilled a hole about one-half the size of a dime in the patient’s cranium and were preparing to insert an MRI-guided, lasertipped probe into the patient’s brain in an effort to destroy what would have otherwise been an inoperable brain tumour. “I will never forget that feeling as the probe entered the patient’s cranium, not as long as I live,” Torchia tells me. “It was our first patient, all the relatives were there waiting outside the operating room, the patient knew he was dying and that this procedure, which had been explained to them, was the last resort.” “They’re looking at you, and you’re the person who’s going to fix this — it’s a tremendous feeling, both positive and negative. You’re excited and terrified at the same time, and you just want to see it succeed.”

Long road The journey to that American operating room started with a conversation among colleagues at the hospital, Torchia recalls. “It was sort of like the old stories we all hear about things sketched on 10 country-guide.ca

November 2011

Photo credit: Khammy Phanthavong

By Gord Gilmour, CG Associate Editor


business the back of napkins,” he says. “We had an idea we thought would work, so our next step was to build a simple prototype — and this wasn’t anything fancy. The very first one we built was something I probably could have made in my basement.” The basis of the idea was already being investigated in other fields. Increasingly surgeons were finding new and innovative ways to use cutting-edge technology to avoid invasive surgery. Probably the best known example is heart surgery. Just a few years ago there was only one way to operate on the human heart — cracking the chest wide open by cutting an incision directly down the middle of the breast bone. These days however, surgery incisions are getting smaller and smaller and further away from the heart as surgeons use remotely controlled robotic tools to perform the surgery through what are known as “keyhole” incisions. The basic idea behind the tumour treatment was the same. Rather than opening the skull and performing invasive surgery, the surgeons would use MRI technology to guide a laser-tipped probe through a small hole and right to the centre of the tumour, where it would then be used to “destroy” the tumour in place. After building the prototype, Torchia and his team were even more convinced that they were onto some-

thing. What the team had was a new piece of equipment that could help doctors treat tumours, create better outcomes for patients, and ultimately perhaps save lives. There was just one problem — it wasn’t doing much good on the lab bench, and Torchia recognized his expertise was in medicine, not business.

Enter Harry Schulz The day I visit Schulz is one of the last of the pleasant summer days in Winnipeg, and when I find him he is laughing at himself in his office at the National Research Council building in the gritty West End neighbourhood. Schulz is a renowned medical fundraiser known throughout Manitoba as one of the key movers behind an emerging bio-medical cluster than includes public research institutes allied with hospitals, universities and other public institutions, pharmaceutical companies and other medical supply and medical technology companies. The subject of his self-effacing humour is a set of six Rolodexes that perch behind his desk — something he insists is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the virtual phone directory of contacts he’s made after decades in the business. Continued on page 12

As head of Prairie Fire Growth Ventures, Harry Schulz’s job is to pump more money into farm inventions and new technologies.

November 2011

country-guide.ca 11


business Continued from page 11 “That’s just the current ones that haven’t made it onto my computer yet,” Schulz says with a laugh. “You should have seen my first day of work — I started syncing my contacts to the computer, the lights dimmed and a few hours later it was finally done.” The new job he’s referring to is one that’s very similar to his old role as the chief innovation officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. In that job his primary task was funding good medical ideas in their various forms. That might mean finding a name sponsor for a new research centre at Health Sciences Centre, the city’s major teaching hospital, or perhaps working with a researcher like Mark Torchia to bring a good idea to life in the operating room by commercializing an innovative new technology. But these days Schulz is beginning his post-retirement career as the head of Prairie Fire Growth Ventures, a new organization jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments that aims to use similar strategies to develop agriculturerelated research work into economically viable commercial companies. As he details the effort, a clearer picture emerges. Prairie Fire, with some

“Somewhere in every diversified portfolio, everyone should have at least one long shot.” — Harry Schulz initial seed money from the two governments, will essentially function as a venture capital fund, with a target of raising $100 million which will be used to fund about 20 start-up companies. “Typically this is where researchers and other innovators face their most significant hurdle — the very early work to commercialize their research,” Schulz says. “It’s where you see ‘angel’ investors like friends and family, because there are significant risks and it’s very likely that you’ll see your initial investment greatly diluted or it could fail outright.” That's the opening for Prairie Fire, an entity that could probably only come from the strange blend of a provincial NDP government and the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa. It recognizes that there is a role for at least limited government activism but insists that those government footprints be the light tracks of the facilitator, rather than the heavy hand of the regulator or central planner. It is in many ways the per-

Where’s your cash? The case for investing in high-risk research The cost of research can be astronomical. Spending as much $100 million before ultimate commercialization isn’t unheard of, which raises the question, where does anyone find that kind of money? For farmers, the question might also be, should some of that money be yours? That’s why both researchers and investors listen closely to Harry Schulz, head of Prairie Fire Growth Ventures, who believes that most major projects will need several streams of cash. For example, an average investor might want to consider sinking some cash in a high-risk portion of their portfolio. “Somewhere, in a diversified portfolio, everyone should have at least one long shot,” Schulz says. “This isn’t what you want to plan on for your retirement, but it’s the small piece that could really pay off in a big way.” Doing that through a structured vehicle like an investment fund allows those investors to play that game, but also helps hedge risk by making a number of investments. Some will fail, but the law of averages also suggests that a few will succeed and when they do the payoff can be handsome. Or there might be companies in related fields like pharmaceuticals or even agriculture life science that make an investment not with an eye to making money, but to knowing just what’s going on in ag research from a prime vantage point. “Research is very, very expensive,” Schulz says. “Many of them look at this sort of investment as a cost-effective way of keeping an eye on what’s being developed, and possibly identifying areas where they may want to make investments.”

12 country-guide.ca

fect expression of the pragmatic brand of Prairie politics that Manitoba is known for, never straying too far to the left or right no matter what ideologues are in power. Essentially the Prairie Fire model will see the professional fundraisers pull together a venture capital pool, scout out investment opportunities and make deals with companies throughout the region. It won’t direct or fund research, but rather fund the commercialization of promising existing research that’s currently sitting on the lab bench. That’s a very important distinction, Schulz insists, because it means that the economic development will be market driven and therefore more sustainable. It also will likely mean that the companies stick around Manitoba once they’re up and running. While medicine to agriculture might seem quite a stretch, it was actually through his earlier work that Schulz says he gained his first significant exposure to agriculture. That was where he saw commodity groups like Pulse Canada partnering with research institutes like the U of M’s Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals and cancer researchers at St. Boniface Hospital to explore the health effects of pulse-rich diets. He also points out that there is a fundamental similarity between today’s advanced life-science companies and pharmaceutical companies with their researchdriven focus. “Frequently they’re actually even the same companies,” Schulz says. “Take Bayer, for example. They’re an agriculture company and a pharmaceutical company.”

Ag focus A few hours down the highway at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Saskatoon Research Centre, Sue Boyetchko might be slightly outside Schulz’s catchment area, but she’s right in the demographic he’s looking for. Boyetchko, a plant pathologist by training, has spent the past two decades finding ways to disrupt weeds using natural bio-controls. One of the most promising she has found is a soil-borne bacteria that occurs naturally in Prairie soils and that attacks the roots of grassy weeds. November 2011


business Among its primary targets are green foxtail plants that are becoming increasingly resistant to the established chemical control products. “We isolated and tested thousands of potential organisms before finding a really promising one,” Boyetchko says. “In retrospect, finding the organism was probably the easiest part. It was labour intensive, of course, but it was relatively straightforward.” Then Boyetchko began the painstaking process of designing a workable delivery system. It’s been a process of trial and error because the bio-pesticide industry is still in its infancy, she says. “These are new products, so we still need to develop ways to formulate them and deliver them to where they need to be delivered,” Boyetchko says. And that’s without ever getting off the lab bench. In that department Boyetchko is luckier than most. She’s in the final stages of inking a development deal with Mycologic, a smallish industry partner that began life as a spinoff by University of Victoria researchers, and which has accrued “significant expertise” in the bio-herbicide field.

Finding the money

But getting there wasn’t easy. It took years of working the industry circuit and making the necessary contacts to know who to call, what to propose and how to strike a deal. When Boyetchko hears the story of Schulz’s Rolodexes she concedes it might have been good to have someone like that in her corner. “It’s so important to have the right combination of people if you want to succeed,” Boyetchko says. “Having your network in place is so important.” For a scientist like her, that’s meant learning a whole new set of skills. While she welcomed that challenge, other research scientists may prefer to spend their time at the lab bench and as a result may never commercialize their work. Back in Winnipeg, Mark Torchia agrees that for him it’s been a rollercoaster ride, learning new skills, meeting new people and taking on new roles. But overall he enjoyed the process so much he did it twice. Torchia also developed a robotic system that frees hospital pharmacy staff from the drudgery of mixing IV solu-

PROTECTION WESTERN BEAN

tions, as well as the ever present danger from handling toxic substances like chemotherapy treatments. Schulz also played an instrumental role in bringing that product to market. “It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” Torchia says. “When Harry and I get together for dinner, I sometimes think our wives don’t believe a word we say — and I can’t really blame them. It went from despair to elation and everything in between, from wondering how you’d possibly move forward to holding a cheque for $7 million to fund the startup.” But ultimately Torchia says there’s no arguing with results, and in this case the result is two viable companies, based in Winnipeg, employing other Winnipegers in stable, well-paying jobs. And then of course there’s the small matter of the contribution to better medical technology and better results for patients. None of those more philosophic rewards are likely to come unless the dollars come too, however, and it's here that Schulz knows his job, and how important it is: “My reputation is being the guy who can find the money.” CG

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November 2011

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country-guide.ca 13


BUSINESS

Young & in m

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NOVEMBER 2011


BUSINESS

g& motion Melanie Sommers is boss in the barns, and much more too. At 26, she’s in charge of key business decisions and is setting her own strategic direction for this expanding eastern Ontario farm By Maggie Van Camp, CG Associate Editor

PHOTO CREDIT: IMAGE-INE PHOTOGRAPHY

elanie Sommers tears around the corner of her family’s free-stall barn, jumps out of the tractor cab and pokes a hand out of her coveralls for a handshake. She’s been cutting some fourth cut hay and is rushing to get it done before the fall rain sets in. The pressure is on, but she is not about to back down. Along with her parents Louise and Peter, Sommers manages a 510-cow herd, raising their own replacements. It's an impressive operation. The cows are milked three times a day in a double-12 parlour and the Sommers also grow corn, soybeans and hay on 1,650 acres of the high-yielding sandy loam flats west of Montreal, near Lancaster, Ont. As Sommers and I tour the twice-expanded 600-foot long barn, she notices an injured cow and stops to ask one of the nine full-time staff to look after her. As we continue, it soon seems the mountains of corn silage in the just-filled bunker silos behind the barn are small compared to the amount of work required to run a dairy and cropping operation this size. The calf barn is the farm’s original tie-stall barn, renovated into low-cost, well-ventilated group pens. When Peter started farming 35 years ago, his family milked 40 cows in this barn and had 270 acres. His transition into farming fulltime was early and abrupt. He was only 20 years old when his father, a post-war Dutch immigrant, died suddenly. Now that it is time for Peter himself to think about succession planning, however, the generational transfer is happening by choice, and with much more preparation. At 55, Peter is still as passionate about farming as his daughter. “We’re always talking about business,” says Melanie, comparing herself to her two sisters who have successful careers off farm. “Maybe our relationship is too much about business.” In fact, Melanie herself earned a degree from McGill before committing to the farm. That was three years ago, and since then she’s been incrementally learning and getting comfortable with each new responsibility. First comes the transition of management power and eventually financial control or share ownership. Currently, Melanie manages the animals and the people who look after them, stressing animal health. Since Melanie started farming full time three years ago, she’s been tracking and managing the herd based on health numbers including milk fever, mastitis, and dead-on-arrivals and is encouraged by the improvements. A couple of key changes have made a difference. For example, she started feeding acidified milk to the calves and switched their semen supply to a company with genetic merit scores based more on health traits, not type classification. It’s further proof that while on many farms a 26-year old is definitely still considered an apprentice, on the Sommers farm, Melanie makes major decisions. Partly, that is because Peter is willing to trust her judgment, but it’s also because Melanie has proven that she has what it takes. Peter manages all the crop production and does the bookkeeping with a close eye on statistics such as wholeContinued on page 16

NOVEMBER 2011

country-guide.ca 15


business Continued from page 15 farm ROI, and he is confident the farm is financially healthy enough to transfer. “Taking over a successful business allows you to have some equity to work with, to continue to expand and grow the business,” says Peter.

New directions For this family, the first step in mapping out a succession plan began with a share buyout. In 2004, Peter’s partner and brother died. The farm corporation recently bought his shares from his widow. Now the Sommers are dealing with that debt load. For the next few years they’re focused on paying down this debt so the corporation can transfer to Melanie in a stronger debt-to-equity position, enabling future growth. The Sommers have a goal of being able to grow four to six per cent per year. In the past Peter has averaged 10 to 12 per cent growth but that’s with lower asset values, some inflation and higher ROI. Melanie’s vision for the farm is more complicated than her father’s low-cost per unit, expansion-based business model. Her mission statement includes words like sustainable, profitable, progressive, and consumer-driven. Although someday she’d like to expand the facilities and potentially increase milk production, the lack of quota on the market means they can only increase about five to 10 cows per year. So instead the Sommers have taken a different path to increase profitability. Two years ago they started producing a niche product, omega-3 milk at a premium of seven to eight cents per litre. The marketing is all done by the processor and under the quota system. They’ve found the net returns can get pretty skimpy since the purchased feed costs five cents more per litre of production. Moreover, there’s been a significant suppression of their fat test and an increase in feet- and rumen-health problems. However, this niche strategy is also about managing the threat of the potential loss of supply management. Their already significant land base is also a strong fallback position. For now only about a third, some 500 acres, goes to off-farm crop sales. “The cropping is our diversity in the agricultural industry, like our safety net,” says Melanie. Their most potent hedge against this loss of supply management risk is to enhance their farm’s ability to produce milk with low overhead and low operating costs per 16 country-guide.ca

litre, says Peter. “With or without supply management, the low-cost always survives,” he says. “We need to position ourselves so we’re the ones left in the industry.”

Employees The two generations agree that their business relies on good employees, both for current day-to-day operations and in order to expand in the future. Farms are no different than any other industry, says Peter. To keep growing, you need to keep more people. “Only farmers who can successfully work with people will be able to keep growing.” Along with paying the area’s going full-time rate, the Sommers say the little things make a difference. The staff each get a birthday and Christmas cards with monetary gifts. During the year they also receive some beef and milk. Melanie has focused on formalizing their human resource management by creating employee handbooks, job descriptions and taking over the hiring procedures. Most of their employees have been very accepting and capable of adapting many of the changes she’s implemented, such as new milking procedures, treatment protocols and work/ holiday schedules. She’s also fluent in both French and English. “I didn’t grow up working with people, Melanie did,” says Peter. “That’s the hardest thing to learn, how to treat people.” Even with these efforts, some employees have had difficulty transitioning decisionmaking power to the new young, female boss. As they see her ability to perform and

her knowledge, and as they learn that she treats them with respect, they’re listening to her more. Yearly employee evaluations have helped too, and Melanie has also found that communicating daily instructions on white boards helps to ensure nothing gets missed. She’s also trying to build respect with knowledge. Any chance she gets, Melanie reads farming articles, attends seminars and uses the Internet to continually look for answers. She has spent three days in Wisconsin on a large-herd management course for middle and upper management put on by Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin ( http://www. pdpw.org). This winter Melanie has been accepted into the George Morris Centre’s C-TEAM program. Beyond the information she garnered at university, Melanie says she learned how to learn, how crucial it is to analyse situations, ask the question why and use conceptual thinking. Moreover, she learned who she was at her core and what she wanted. While going to university, she worked in a real estate office in downtown Montreal and discovered how much she disliked the environment — the high-traffic commute, being confined inside and the limitations of working for a company. “I always enjoyed the farm, the way of life, working outside, and finding new ways of doing things and applying new ideas,” says Melanie. “It’s a lifestyle, not only a career. And it’s something you need to be passionate about for the next 40 years, not just this week.” CG November 2011


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BUSINESS

Rent to grow Jordan Kambeitz sees renting from the big farmland trusts as a springboard for today’s young farmers By Leeann Minogue ason Kambeitz knows that when farmers get together over coffee and the conversation turns to farmland investment companies like Assiniboia Capital and AgCapita, the smiles disappear and a sober seriousness takes over. By buying up local farmland, the talk goes, the big funds are driving up land prices, and they’re taking capital out of rural communities too. It can’t end well, the consensus often says. But not all of the stories are bad. Jordan himself is a case study in how working with these companies may be a new opportunity for young farmers who want to build up a successful farms. Kambeitz grew up in Regina. Now he’s running a grain farm, partly from behind a desk at his office in the city where he is cofounder and managing partner of Kingsland Energy Corp., an oil and gas development firm based in Regina. Kingsland owns over 20,000 acres of mineral rights in southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba. But don’t try telling Kambeitz that he isn’t a farmer. “This is where I hang my hat when I’m not at the farm,” he says. Nor should you make the mistake that there is anything part-time or scaled down about Kambeitz’s farming objectives. At only 30, he is already running a 10,000acre farm near Sedley, Sask. and is expanding into the Kronau area. “The rental model has allowed our operation to grow at a faster rate than would otherwise be possible,” says Kambeitz who owns about 3,000 acres and rents the remaining 7,000. “The cost of growing a bushel of product is too great,” Kambeitz says. “You can’t have all your capital tied up in land ownership and expect to grow at the rate you want to grow.” The majority of the land 18 country-guide.ca

Kambeitz rents is owned by his father and uncle, and he also rents some “odds and ends” from retired farmers. And, some of the acres Kambeitz rents are managed by Palliser Land Management, a Regina-based company that looks after 115,000 acres of Saskatchewan farmland owned by Assiniboia Capital Corp., as well as additional land held by other parties. Murray Gogel, Palliser’s senior farmland manager, says the land Kambeitz rents is “some of the best dirt in our portfolio.” “Jordan’s quite an entrepreneur,” Gogel says. Gogel believes his company can help famers expand their farms: “We’re a particularly good fit for those who are relatively young.” There are farmers with a negative attitude towards these institutional owners. “I was one of them, at the beginning,” Kambeitz says. He had seen non-farmer investors with deep pockets come to town to buy land that Kambeitz had hoped he might be in a position to buy himself someday. Yet after working with Gogel and watching other young farmers rent land from investment companies to expand their land bases, Kambeitz has come to believe there are benefits to having these players in the market. Land owned by typical farmers often gets sold from one generation to the next with no public notice and no open bidding. This can frustrate farmers like Kambeitz. The funds put more structure in the market, he believes, and because agriculture is so cyclical, Kambeitz predicts there will come a day when land prices will fall and the companies won’t be able to charge high rents. Or, investors will want to cash in their investments and buy something else. When NOVEMBER 2011


PHOTO CREDIT: CAREY SHAW

BUSINESS

NOVEMBER 2011

that happens, “this will all get recycled. We’ll see all this land trade hands again someday.” As evidence, Kambeitz cites the story of an Alberta holding company which had owned land near his farm. “Last week, a 21,000acre package sold.” The holding company had bought the land not long ago, consolidating about seven farms into one block. Since then, the per acre price has doubled and the company decided to take the profit. The land didn’t sell to another institutional buyer. It sold to a handful of smaller landowners. The Alberta investors walked away with a lot of capital, but Kambeitz wonders if, overall, this capital outflow is made up for by the fact that these companies are helping young farmers. “Land funds potentially keep a lot of young guys around,” Kambeitz says. “There are lots of young guys who farm 2,000 acres with their dad and want to keep farming.” They need to expand their land base to stay profitable, but they don’t all have the capital to do that. The existence of land funds gives young farmers like this a whole new solution — a large-scale landlord. When the young farmer is ready to rent land, Kambeitz explains, “That farmer can call Murray Gogel and says ‘what have you got for me?’” As Kambeitz sees it, non-farm landowners have also created a timely solution for older farmers. “I believe that some people from my dad’s generation were scared up until four or five years ago.” They were worried about how they could retire and what would happen to their land. Not all farmers have a clear succession plan, and not all farm kids are interested in farming. “In my opinion, a lot of people felt stranded,” Kambeitz says. Companies like Assiniboia Capital are another potential buyer for such farmers, he says. “Now, there’s a way out.” But Kambeitz won’t be looking for that exit door anytime soon. He’s in expansion mode. “I’m a bit of a bull when it comes to the commodity market,” Kambeitz says. “I’m expanding at the pace that my labour model can keep up to.” He has five employees working on his farm. Two are on staff full-time, year round, and three are seasonal full-time employees. The need to keep staff around through the slower winter months is partly a side effect of Saskatchewan’s tight labour market. “I fight the oilfield,” Kambeitz says. Sedley is located mid-way between the southeast Saskatchewan oilfield and the city of Regina. Kambeitz has to be competitive with both of these labour markets if he’s going to keep good help. “I have to offer stable employment,” he says. He appreciates his staff and does what he can to keep them, like offering his full-time staff a month off in the winter. He places a high value on staff and believes that investing in people makes good economic sense. “I can buy all the equipment I want, but the equipment doesn’t do much if I don’t have the guys to run it.” And, between his farm and his other business interests, Kambeitz realizes that he’s “more valuable throughout the year sitting behind my computer.” There are also his interests in Kingland Energy to attend to. Oil and gas development is moving closer to where Kambeitz farms, and being involved in the resource industry from the points of view of a developer and a farmer has given him a good understanding of both sides. With both a farm and off-farm business interests, Kambeitz can take to his office when things are slower on the farm, or head out to the farm when he needs a break from city life. “I love it,” he says. “I love farming. It’s my escape from the office.” Then he says, “Is it a lifestyle or a business? I’m trying to make it both.” CG country-guide.ca 19


BUSINESS

The city quest In past, sons and daughters like Gwen Donohoe chose farming “because of the lifestyle.” Now it can be what keeps them away

By Rebeca Kuropatwa t was never going to be easy. Gwen Donohoe knew that, the same way that every farm kid knows that taking over the family farm is going to demand total commitment. Yet it isn’t the hard work that has convinced Donohoe she needs to keep a least one foot in the city. She wasn’t even put off by the tough economics. Instead, what is tainting the dream for Donohoe is the very thing that is supposed to be one of farming’s great advantages. It’s lifestyle. “It’s really hard for young people who come to the city and then return to the farm,” says Donohoe, whose family farms at The Pas. Seven hours north of Winnipeg, The Pas can feel even more remote than most other farm communities, but in Donohoe’s view,

20 country-guide.ca

it’s only a difference of degree. The same trends are sending signals to farm kids all across the country that it’s time to leave. “Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, all towns had curling and hockey rinks and large community centres,” Donohoe says. “You also had a sense of community and social life in the towns. But today it’s pretty tough. You go home and there aren’t other young people to farm with or any kind of community.” “It used to be more fun to live on a farm,” she says wistfully. But this isn’t simple nostalgia on her part. The kinds of pleasures you can get from farming are changing too, Donohoe believes. Indeed, those pleasures have to be different and they have to become more focussed on Continued on page 22

NOVEMBER 2011


BUSINESS

estion

PHOTO CREDIT: VICTORIA ANNE PHOTOGRAPHY

NOVEMBER 2011

country-guide.ca 21


business Continued from page 20 financial management and strategic planning if young farmers are going to succeed. As farming gets more and more concentrated on business issues, Donohoe says, why wouldn’t you just stay in the city and manage a business there? “Don’t get me wrong,” says Donohoe, talking of her generation. “We’re very hard workers… but, we know we can work a 9-5 job in a town or city and we want to have that kind of lifestyle on a farm — which is completely impossible. “You might love your farm and land, but it’s tough to give up all those urban opportunities.” At 28, Donohoe knows a lot about both the city and the country sides of agriculture. Today, she is working on her doctorate at the University of Manitoba, looking at how different management practices can influence the environmental implications of over-wintering beef cattle. Donohoe also sits on the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council board, a federally funded council that works to build up farm innovation in rural communities. On the board she’s joined by other farmers, but also by individuals who represent consumers, producers and food processors. Donohoe’s specific assignment on the council’s board is to work as its youth director, and it becomes obvious in talking to her that the connections she makes through the organization are important for her own definition of what makes a good lifestyle. “It’s an exciting group of people to work with,” she says, “real leaders in agriculture and food in Manitoba.” It isn’t her first experience with farm organizations. Donohoe’s parents were dairy through her early years until in 1995 they sold their quota and started what has grown to a 300 cow-calf operation plus 1,000 acres of grains and oilseeds. The farm’s weaned calves are sold to buyers in Alberta and Quebec, while their grains are marketed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In 2005, after earning her undergraduate degree in agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, Donohoe returned home to the farm. In fact, Donohoe is still very involved there. The farm is her parents’, but Donohoe owns her own herd of cattle that stay with her parents’ cattle. She rents the land and feed from them, so it all gets managed together, and she and her parents work the farm on their own without any hired help. When she returned, though, Donohoe 22 country-guide.ca

also brought many of the perspectives she had learned both at school and in the city. At first, that meant she was eager to start organic farming, although she soon came to change her mind and to decide that what is really at the core of her beliefs is sustainability, which she now believes is quite a different thing than organics. “To me,” she explains, “organic is just a label, a certification — and not necessarily a sustainable operation.” Being one who loves teaching and helping others, Donohoe is also interested in demonstrating good management skills to other producers or in being involved in like-minded organizations. “We can teach producers to be even more sustainable than some of the organic operations out there simply by using good management practices,” she says. This line of thinking is what led Donohoe to get involved in The Pas’ local conservation district board. The board is funded by the province and rural municipalities, and is directed by landowners, with projects geared toward activities that promote sustainable soil and water quality management to help producers adopt good practices. Through the conservation district board, Donohoe has been involved in many producer field trials, one of which was the nitrogen ramp trial, helping producers determine a good nitrogen rate to apply to their crops. “It’s especially important to not over-apply nitrogen, so the nitrogen won’t start leaking into the waterways,” she says. The board also organizes many guest speaker events geared toward producers. Through Donohoe taking her master’s degree (in soil science in 2010), she was able to tie in some of the university professors and people who like to do extension work — getting them to come up to The Pas and talk to producers. Still, Donohoe recognizes that the reality of family farming is that when the children come home, Dad and Mom still call the shots. She recognizes too that this is how it has always been. And while there were a few bumps (“I learned pretty quickly with

my own parents not to go tell them, ‘We need to do this, because you’re doing it wrong.’”) she also discovered that both generations share the same core values, especially their belief in sustainability, and she feels it is likely the same on most farms. “When I first came home from school, I really wanted to put one of our fields into alfalfa for a few years,” she remembers as an example. “It was really hard to convince my dad to do this… then he saw it as a great idea, making our own fertilizer.” “We all have the same goals — wanting to be sustainable economically and environmentally,” she says, although it’s clear there can still be differences. “We have different perspectives about how to get there,” she admits. Still, Donohoe does believe there’s an even more fundamental difference between the generations, because her generation is facing an even starker choice between life in the city and life on the farm. She would like to see farm groups accept this as a challenge and develop strategies to tackle it. “Our agriculture community doesn’t have a framework set out for a social network for young people. Maybe we need to have more of that — more get togethers in towns and cities where young farmers can meet up and have a satisfying social life and communication.” On top of that, agriculture can focus on rural development too, Donohoe suggests. “Get rural populations back up by integrating industry back into the towns and small cities, or by finding a way to make smaller farms more sustainable in the long run.” Then, recognize that the coming generation is impatient, for good reason. They can achieve their lifestyle goals in the city, with more time for family life and more opportunities for vacations and social interaction. “It’s not that earlier generations didn’t want that, but they didn’t have the same kind of opportunities,” Donohoe says. “Today,” she says simply, “young farmers want to do more of what regular people do.” CG November 2011


The Perfectly Practical Utility Tractors The new 2012 John Deere 5E Limited Series

Take a good look at the new 83- to 101-HP 5E Limited Series, and you might be tempted to call these “the perfect utility tractors.” Considering improvements like the redesigned, more ergonomically sound cab, the re-engineered, lower effort controls, and all the new standard and available comfort and convenience features, we won’t argue. But the real test is how the 5E Limited Series handles your jobs. So we kept all the features that made these some of the most capable tractors in their class: standard four-wheel drive. Standard independent PTO with fuel-saving Economy mode. Standard 12/12 PowrReverser™ transmission. Are the new 5E Limited Series the perfect utility tractors? We’ll let you decide. Until then, we’ll just call them perfectly practical. Find out more from your John Deere dealer, or visit us on online.

JohnDeere.com/Tractors


business

What is it

young people want anyway? Bringing the universal question to the farm

s questions go, this isn’t exactly new. What do young people want? Every generation has wondered at the behaviour of their young, and every age has questioned the wisdom of its children’s long-term goals. Granted, it doesn’t help that the question sometimes gets asked with sarcasm in the voice and a raised eyebrow, but mostly there is good intent behind it. A perplexing problem presents itself when the question is asked on the farm, though. Children don’t seem to be wired to give answers with lots of specifics, but their parents know that if the farm is going to survive through succession, the “specifics” are exactly what the children have to be good at. In the past, our “wants” and “needs” were differentiated. If you didn’t need something to survive or prosper it couldn’t be all that important. That was the thinking of a post-war generation bent on success at any cost. And it made sense. Who could think about the frills while trying to make a go of farming, whether seeding the bald prairie or mired in an Ontario clay? That pesky memory of the Depression made financial success paramount, motivating farmers to work harder and longer to get ahead. But the shift happening amongst corporate managers, professionals and 24 country-guide.ca

small business executives has come to the farm. Young farmers “want” more. This doesn’t necessarily translate into the desire for more wealth, though that would be nice, but instead is articulated in a desire for a better life, however that’s defined. This shift has led to an increasing number of young farmers who see the farm as a means to an end, as a business through which to attain the balance of income and lifestyle. These are goals vastly different from those the older generation might have had. Or perhaps they are things for which their parents wished all along, but didn’t dare to ask. Andrew Monchuk is 30 years old. He’s married to Pam and they farm with his Dad near Lanigan, Sask. Andrew has been farming full time since finishing his agriculture degree in 2003. At 1,750 acres, their farm is relatively small by Saskatchewan standards, but the family is expecting to expand to 2,500 acres next year. They have 1,000 acres of grass and pasture, run 50 cows, and background calves over the winter. What does Monchuk want as a young farmer? He defines things in terms of personal and financial goals, though the two overlap. He’d like to see his farm business be financially successful so he can expand, but also so he can farm in a sustainable manner. He’d also like the

farm to make enough money to raise a family and provide for the eventual retirement of his folks. Like many, his goals get a little fuzzy when he talks about the personal side of things. Simply put, he wants to have a successful farm and enjoy being there. “You see people who hate the farm. I don’t want that,” Monchuk says. Enjoyment comes from two angles. First there is the independence farming offers. “I don’t have to punch a clock. And to a certain degree I get to decide what to do and do it. I don’t have to ask permission… well except from Dad,” he laughs. Second, Monchuk enjoys the lifestyle farming offers. He lives in an area with a huge potash industry where there is no lack of high-paying jobs. But he questions what people in that industry give up in order to get ahead, most importantly family and leisure time. The MonNovember 2011

Photo credit: Reflections by Richard

By Anne Lazurko, CG Contributing Editor


business

“We have more of a sense of entitlement than our fathers did.” — Andrew Monchuk

chuks have a long-term goal to see both Andrew and Pam working full time on the farm, something you couldn’t conceive of in many other industries. Still, such goals are common in family businesses of any nature, says Art Lange, farm and industry adviser with AJL Consulting out of Sherwood Park, Alta. “Most family businesses come about in the first place because the individuals want some control over their personal lives and to be independent,” Lange says. “I saw farmers in crisis five years ago who found a way to make it (their farm) work because their lifestyle was paramount. Any independent business people cherish their independence and being responsible for driving the business.” At the same time “young farmers don’t necessarily want the farm to be the be-all and end-all for their total lives,” Lange says. “They want private time for November 2011

themselves and their families separate from, or away from, the farm.” And they want a good income and the ability to influence decision-making. “Sometimes the younger generation is seen as glorified hired labour, they are not well paid and not part of decision-making,” Lange says. “Why would they stay? The next generation cares about a living income, however that’s defined. They are not willing to live on a low income just because there’s a side of beef thrown in.” “The older generation stuck with it. If they had a few good years they lived on that and simply kept plugging away during the bad,” Lange says. “Quitting and selling out was seen as a failure.” That’s not good enough for today’s young farmers, who bring other lessons from industry to the farm. They want to have business plans, marketing plans, set goals and objectives, and determine how

to get there and the measures of success, Lange says. “Saying ‘Someday this will all be yours’ may backfire if they look at the books and it scares them away.” If young farmers don’t see a hope of success on the balance sheet, they are more willing to walk away from an unprofitable farm. Lange believes part of the onus then is on older farmers to have their affairs, such as debt, in order so that succession doesn’t cripple the younger generation. Andrew Monchuk believes this last point is a two-way street. “We (young farmers) have more of a sense of entitlement than our fathers did,” he admits. “We see a guy with 5,000 acres and want to be there today. That guy might have taken 30 years to build to that point.” His father is still actively farming and Monchuk is realistic about the time it will take. “It’s a partnership in transition… kind of a mentorship program that allows me certain freedoms,” he says. “Mine will be a long-term apprenticeship. I have to learn the pieces of the puzzle as I go and the more I learn and the more I can do, the more responsibility I can take on.” Planning, adapting and using technology all enter into the picture. While we all know you can’t avoid the busy seeding and harvest seasons, Monchuk believes there are tools that can help optimize time for things other than farming. Marketing decisions can be set out ahead using technology and using tools such as futures and options. If you can plan your marketing schedule, you can also plan a holiday around that. Labour is an issue for any farm and the booming industrial sector in Saskatchewan is driving up wages. “I think you have to be able to adapt to every situation and be willing to hire someone, and pay what they need in order to reduce stresses and get the job done and have time with family,” Monchuk says. Monchuk also believes he will have to make realistic decisions based on the indicators that Art Lange talks about. “If we got too big and couldn’t find help, then we’d have to look at downsizing, fewer cattle, less land or whatever the situation is and what the business plan looks like,” Monchuk says. “You can work smarter and not necessarily harder, and be better off.” That’s not likely to be something you’d have heard come out of a farmer’s mouth 50 years ago. CG country-guide.ca 25


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BUSINESS

Listening in Gen Yers like Sarah Wray are already flexing their farm muscles. You just might not know it if you aren't linked in

generation ago, Sarah Wray might have gone looking for a farm organization to join. Maybe she would even have started a new club so beginning farmers such as she and her husband Logan could learn from others about getting off to a good start. Or she might have opened up a new branch of Junior Farmers. Instead, the young Alberta farmer turned to the Net. Instead of looking for a meeting to attend, she and a handful of friends helped build a website for beginning farmers, got government funding to pay for it, and are getting credited with doing a world more good than they ever could at a club meeting. It’s a sign of how Generation Y is going to do things differently. Not only is this the first generation of farmers to have grown up with keypads welded to their fingertips, it’s also a generation with new insights into the power of groups. “Collaboration will create greatness,” Wray tells me with firm conviction. Yet this generation is also easy to misunderstand. In fact, unless you make a special effort to listen in, it’s a generation that you’re almost certain to get wrong. Which is a pity, because it’s already clear that this is a generation that intends to make its mark. “Communicating with Generation Y is a whole new playing field for most in agriculture,” says Wray, a part-time farmer from Bashaw, Alta., and one of the founders of FarmOn, a website for young farmers. Every generation is distinguished by its experiences and expectations, as well as by the way it works and communicates. Farmers born from 1922 to 1945 are often called Traditionalists or Builders, and were influenced by the Great Depression and the Second World War. Then came the post-war wave of Baby Boomers, followed by Generation X, or the MTV Generation as it sometimes called, which was born from about 1965 to 1980. 28 country-guide.ca

Now a new group of farmers is entering the profession. Generation Y was born between the early 1980s and the new milennium, and this latest generation of farmers has its own unique way of communicating and working, and it has its own way of setting priorities too. Plus, unlike any other generation in recent memory, they’re launching their farming careers in a swell of grain market optimism and amidst a new wave of farmer-direct selling and computer technology. “Our generation is part of the information age,” says Wray. “And using social media is second nature to us.” NOVEMBER 2011

PHOTO CREDIT: ROXANNE MILLER

By Maggie Van Camp, CG Associate Editor


BUSINESS THE SURVEY SAYS… Roughly 30 per cent of the farmers in Agri Studies Inc.’s recent survey of commercial-size farms report they are using social media. That may not be a surprise. What’s surprising, though is that there didn’t seem to be any difference across age groups. Is it enough to debunk the idea that the entire younger generation is addicted to Facebook, while older farmers don’t even know what it is? “Social media is simply another way to communicate,” says Justin Funk, managing partner of Guelph-based Agri Studies and president of the Canadian Agri Marketing Association (CAMA). In the Agri Studies grower survey, “starting farmers” made up only three per cent of total respondents. Even so, it’s important for retailers to go after their business, Funk says. They’re at a stage when they really value the extra service, Funk says. “Get them while they’re starting, especially for smaller local retailers. It pays to spend time for the future even though it takes extra work.” Besides, he says, smaller producers also mean more profit. They need help and information, and are willing to pay for it. According to marketing theory, if there’s less competition, like in niche markets, you can charge more. Still, the ag inputs sector also needs to get ready for the fact that Gen Y is going to change the game. In particular, this is a group that’s hard to tie down. “The industry has built itself on loyalty,” Funk says. “We’re not going to be able to hang our hat on it anymore.” Yet in other ways, Gen Y farmers are the same as any others. Regardless of age or size of operation, the Agri Studies survey showed that the single most important factor in influencing farmers’ purchase decisions is their own experience with the product. That means Gen Y farmers need more service and more information, but it also means an opportunity for suppliers who are willing to go the extra mile and give Gen Y farmers one-on-one help. As innovation, performance and price become more important, suppliers will have to create new ways to sell, says Funk. Pioneer dairy specialist for all of Canada, Robert Larmer, recently bought a farm west of Peterborough and lives and breathes mobile, real-time communication. Although some of his Gen Y customers have complete reign over all decisions, many are on multi-generational farms and don’t always make the final decision. Still their opinion matters. Larmer has a Twitter account to communicate with his younger customers, passing on things like yield information on a daily basis. Larmer’s not sure buying decisions are based on his tweets, but he says it’s a way to build a relationship with younger farmers. “I’m one of them so we understand each other,” he says Says Larmer: “The younger-generation farmers may not have enough influence yet to say yes, but they definitely can say no.”

Started in 2007 by five friends who showed cattle together, www.farmon.com was initially created with financial backing from AVAC Ltd. as a way for new farmers to share experiences and learn about the business of farming. “We felt there was a real disconnect between what was actually happening and us,” says Wray. The friends also thought their generation needed a way to sort though the information overload while still having a chance to show and discuss ideas that can actually help. This is a multi-tasking generation, after all. A Gen Y farmer is often simultaneously NOVEMBER 2011

establishing a new farm business and working at an off-farm job, pursuing post-secondary education, and even raising a young family. Not unlike many starting farmers, Wray and Logan both work full time off the farm. They also have three young children, and on top of that they direct market meat and eggs and are building a show-quality breeding herd of beef cattle on their quarter section. “I look for my information at midnight, when it’s Continued on page 30 country-guide.ca 29


business

“Farming has changed already, purely because communication has changed.” — Sarah Wray

Continued from page 29 too dark to work on the farm and the kids are asleep,” says Wray. FarmOn’s recently updated platform, funded by Rural Alberta Development Fund and a Rural Diversification Initiative grant, combines social networking with e-learning. The Farm Masters portion delivers extension content in short videos, downloadable PDF documents and audio podcasts. Farmers can also ask questions and interact with expert guides, all while forming relationships with their peers that essentially become their own online support system. The goal isn’t to recreate the information, says Wray. It’s to engage farmers and experts of all ages to discuss the information. It’s also a way to link new farmers with actionable resources, mentors and the general public. “We all strive to make our businesses better but sometimes we can’t 30 country-guide.ca

do it alone,” says Wray. “It takes the power of many.” Texting, instant messaging and email are tools for unprecedented connectivity, but they aren’t alone. There’s also sharing videos through websites like YouTube, plus other broadly used social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. In an agriculture where the distances between farms — and between farmers and consumers — are getting larger every day, this is a generation that has refused to let distance become an obstacle. “Farming has changed already, purely because communication has changed,” says Wray. By engaging the general public and by injecting their opinions into farm businesses strategies, Wray says farmers will continue to improve. In fact, she says it’s unavoidable at this point. Reflecting the social network allinclusive concept, FarmOn is open to all experiences and promotes the conversation around that, both positive and negative. “It’s like a big coffee shop,” says

Wray. “We hope it provokes thoughts, tests credibility.” Yet this is also an impatient generation. Online communities can test and filter innovations quickly and widely. “Innovation in our industry has been underfunded,” says Wray. “We need new thoughts and new ideas.” Next spring, the FarmOn Foundation wants to open their site to the broader agricultural community. For example, company crop specialists could not only reach their own farmers through the FarmOn platform, they could also capture an expanded audience within the FarmOn community. If history repeats itself, Gen Y will continue evolving. In just a few short years email and chat rooms have become antiquated for many young people. Mobile apps are taking over. “Mentorship and guidance are huge for my generation,” says Wray. “This is a way to capture and share this wealth of knowledge before it disappears.” CG November 2011


BUSINESS

WHAT GENERATION IS YOUR FARM?

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Ag marketing theory crashes with reality on Meredith Fuller’s desk. She’s vice-president of public relations at Quarry, an agricultural advertising firm in Waterloo, Ont., and she also farms part-time with her husband, Paul Knafelc. They grow 12 acres of fruit in the heart of the Niagara Region, including strawberries, pearches and sweet cherries. They also work with Knafelc’s family, which farms next door, while another farmer manages and harvests about four acres of pears on their property. The couple sells at the farm gate and at a local farmers market. It all means Fuller brings perspectives not only as career executive and farm business partner, but also as both marketer and buyer, listener and talker. Painting all young farmers with the same communications brush can be a mistake, Fuller says. Yes, some topics and issues do affect young farmers more than their older counterparts, or perhaps it’s different perspectives on those topics. However, she says generational divisions shouldn’t be used too rigorously, especially when you’re talking to farmers. The label “young” can become shorthand for attributes such as innovativeness, tech savviness, willingness to take risks, and willingness to try new products or production practices, Fuller says. That’s a mistake, she says, “Many older farmers are quite tech savvy, innovative and first-adopters of new technology, products, and techniques.” Instead she says the critical differences often lie more in stage of the farm and the size of the operation, not in the age of the farmer. “Most young farmers are in a family farm that they will likely take over,” Fuller says, “so communication also needs to consider the life-stage of the farm as opposed to the age of the farmer.” For example, a new farmer just getting into the business or into a new type of production requires and appreciates much different information than a third-generation farmer on a long-standing family operation, even though they could both be the same age. In Fuller’s experience, farm size is often used more than farmer age in determining not only what is communicated, but how it is communicated. For example, since growers with large operations spend more, they typically get more attention from the companies, with reps driving up the laneway to talk machinery, seed and pesticides. However, more companies are coming to grips with the need for multiple venues, says Fuller. For example, chemical companies produce both hard copy and online versions of product guides, and they produce mobile apps to assess disease pressure while still hiring agronomists to walk fields. Ag companies are also getting more sophisticated at customizing their grower communication, so growers get messages targetted directly at them, Fuller says. “As an industry we perhaps aren’t as far along that curve as others are, but it is improving.”

Farm stage often means more than farmer age, says Quarry’s Fuller

NOVEMBER 2011

When Rodney Voldeng from Naicam, Sask. answers his cellphone, he says he’d like to be part of our discussion, but could I email him so he can respond when he’s not on the combine? Like most of the younger generation, Voldeng is open to sharing his opinion, but prefers communicating by computer. Voldeng and his brother Doug grow 3,600 acres of grains and oilseeds. They also used to have a farrow-to-finish operation but depopulated three years ago with the decline in pork prices. Voldeng has a degree from the University of Saskatchewan and is chair of the Saskatchewan Young AgEntrepreneurs, where his wife, Gwenda, is general manager. For Voldeng, regular mail service is too slow, so information that comes in the mailbox tends to be the last to get looked at when time is tight. “Littering the mailbox with all kind of gimmicks is not a good way to get young farmers attention,” he says in his email written in the evening. His smartphone, particularly via texting and Internet sourcing, is his communication conduit of choice. “Young farmers utilize more social media than ever before and communicate greatly by use of their cellphones and texting,” Voldeng says. Voldeng receives daily market updates through text messaging on his cellphone from a number of end users. “It’s extremely handy in helping me make marketing decisions, especially during the very busy times of the farming year,” he says. He has noticed for most young, commercial scale farmers like himself, most input purchases are dictated by price, then performance and availability. That may not be all that different from his parents’ generation. Also, most younger farmers shop for equipment at auction sales with price dictating many purchases. However, when negotiating with dealers, service is high on Voldeng’s priority list. Again, that can be true of older farmers too. What may often be different, though, is his reliance on mobile technology to help manage both sides of the balance sheet. “Young farmers today are willing to shop around for price and service,” Voldeng says, “and they will deliver their product many miles away, if it’s best for their operation.”

country-guide.ca 31


business

Are the wannabe farmers in Canada’s biggest cities really so different? Maybe not

By Anne Lazurko, CG Contributing Editor heir parents can probably be forgiven for assuming that a “farmer” growing five acres of strawberries in southern Ontario can’t possibly have anything to teach a young farmer breaking into large-scale production on the Prairies. Even Christie Young, executive director with Ontario’s FarmStart, describes her ideas about smallscale, new farmers as unique. But when you look at them juxtaposed with the concerns of Saskatchewan’s Andrew Monchuk (see What is it Young People Want, page 24), you can see that for the most part young farmers are all in this together. First, though, you need to know that all of the members of the non-profit FarmStart organization are either immigrants, young people from non-farming backgrounds, or older second-career farmers.

“These are serious entrepreneurs who believe in the purpose and value of farming.” — Christie Young 32 country-guide.ca

In fact, FarmStart’s mandate is to serve only these demographics, and to increase their presence and enhance their chances of success. FarmStart supports the ideals of local markets, short supply chains, and even shorter value chains. Its members typically farm small acreages of higher value crops, and they promote ecological agriculture which, according to Young, doesn’t only mean organic. Almost all FarmStart members come at farming from an environmental or social perspective, and they are seeking meaningful careers and opportunities for community stewardship. “Certain people who weren’t born on a farm or who have farmed elsewhere make really good farmers,” Young says. And while FarmStart has helped many get a start with their incubator farm program, only 25 per cent of those who dream of farming will actually get there, she says. While conventional farming types might be rolling their eyes about now, it’s important to understand these people mean business. “They are different than the back-to-the-landers,” Young says. “These are serious entrepreneurs who believe in the purpose and value of farming. But they are also coming to it with the intention to build a business, be their own boss, and make decisions.” It seems these goals aren’t so different from Andrew November 2011


business

Monchuk’s. So if the goals are the same, and the basic production concept is similar, maybe it’s true that there’s more that the different ends of Canada’s youngfarmer demographic can learn from each other. After all, the main commonality is that getting into farming isn’t easy for anyone, whether you’re born on a farm or not. It takes a spark, and maybe that spark is transferable. FarmStart participants approach farming with the long term goal of earning their livelihood through their efforts. This differentiates them from hobby farmers who have been taking some flack in southern Ontario and B.C. for driving up land prices and “wasting” prime agricultural land. And while FarmStart members may require off-farm income until they get their heads above water, so too do many young Saskatchewan farmers working their way into a 10,000-acre operation. While the entire sector faces transitional challenges regarding farming’s capital requirements, new farmers have to make a bigger leap because they come to it without family backing and so are searching for lower risk avenues to get into the business. Many FarmStart and incubator farms start small and lease a large portion of what they farm. They can then scale up incrementally. They are also form-

ing co-operatives, joint ventures and partnerships with other new entrants. This is, of course, if land is available. In southern Ontario and B.C., speculators have bought up land and taken it permanently out of agricultural production, leaving little opportunity for the kinds of small farm initiatives Young is talking about. “We have to get to retiring farmers before they have a crisis and sell to investors,” she says. “Often they would prefer to sell to a new farmer but the turnaround is too quick for that new farmer if it’s not planned ahead.” She’d like to see government policy developed that keeps agricultural land in the hands of farmers, security of land tenure, and possible public land ownership designed to help new entrants. New and young farmers need a break, Young says. They need patient capital, they need venture capital to be extended to the agriculture sector, and they need better help with succession planning. “Seventy-five per cent of farmers will retire in the next 10 years, and 60 per cent of those have no successor,” Young says. “It’s unprecedented, and what does it mean? I think we have some huge readjustments to make to support a new generation of farmers.” CG

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country-guide.ca 33


BUSINESS

YOUNG EMPLOYEES TOO Their parents might learn some from pointers by watching how today’s young farmers get more from young employees By Helen Lammers-Helps

hen I’m on assignment for COUNTRY GUIDE, young farmers have been talking to me for several years now along the lines of, “My father has hired hands, I have employees.” Now, however, today’s young farmers are moving the HR yardsticks even further. My interview with 32-year old Jeff Vermeersch is a prime example. Vermeersch, who operates a large cash crop farm near Tillsonburg, Ont. with his brother, Greg, age 36, and their parents George and Willy says he’s a better human-resources manager because he recognizes that he and his employees share a

“ My generation needs to be praised, rewarded continuously and have someone take interest in our personal development.” — Jeff Vermeersch

34 country-guide.ca

NOVEMBER 2011


BUSINESS

series of traits that have a huge bearing on loyalty, commitment and performance. As a young farmer, Vermeersch says he’s constantly reminded of the differences between his generation and his parents.’ “We’re more involved with our families,” Vermeersch says. “We want more time off to spend with our families than our fathers did. Our wives work off the farm and the world doesn’t revolve around the farm the way it used to.” Vermeersch also believes farming today is simply more intense, and that it can take a toll faster than it used to. It’s why the Vermeersch farm has set out structured schedules to allow time for family and

NOVEMBER 2011

renewal. “We all try to take at least one day off per weekend to spend with our families,” says Vermeersch, who also tries to get away for an annual vacation. “Farming seems to get more stressful every year so we like to get away for a winter vacation,” he adds, noting that his parents at his age didn’t seem to have the same need to travel and “to see what else is out there.” On the Vermeersch farm, what goes for the farmer, goes for the employees too, including the five full-time staff as well the family members involved in the operation. “Farming is a business these days more than a way of life,” Vermeersch says. It’s a sentiment that most farmers would agree with, whatever their age. But Vermeersch and his contemporaries take it a step farther. “Like any business, you need to have more structured hours if possible, especially with employees in the younger generation,” Vermeersch says. “We always meet every day at 8 a.m. at our office to set the expectations for the day in terms who is going where and what they are doing. In the off season we try to end the day at 4:30 p.m. This way the employees can plan their lives! 8-4:30 p.m.!” “In the busy time we work hard, long days like any farming operation,” Vermeersch adds, “but we always try to be reasonable and safe, as working too many hours burns people out and quality of work dramatically decreases. “If at all possible we try and take Sundays off, except during planting and harvest if weather forces us to work on a Sunday.” Vermeersch employees get two weeks off plus they can take their banked overtime off if they wish. “Vacation is important to clear your head and come back refreshed and ready to go again,” Vermeersch says. It’s important to be flexible too, he adds. “We try to accommodate any of the employees who need to spend time with their children or partners, as we acknowledge everyone has responsibities at home. Recently we have designed a performance-management system to reward our employees for taking responsibility and working above and beyond. We set targets as a team and individually. “As part of the performance management we also try and outline one or two personal development areas (training). As

part of the performance management we review one on one with the employees to give and receive feedback. We have found that it is extremely important to allow employees to be independent and give them an opportunity to voice opinions.” It’s just part of what makes this generation different, Vermeersch says. And it is a difference that employers need to note, because employees will rapidly figure out whether they’re working in an environment that is one they want to stick with. “My generation needs to be praised, rewarded continuously and have someone take interest in our personal development,” Vermeersch says. Some other farmers might complain about what seems like hand holding, but to Vermeersch, it marks an opportunity. “This is all part of our employee retention plan.”

Building on youth Vermeersch’s comments ring true with Deb Calverley, business adviser with MNP LLP in Deloraine, Man. Farmers today are looking for a more defined work-life balance, Calverley says. “Business owners as a whole, including farmers, are recognizing their own need to spend more time with their family and to take planned breaks from the business.” The farm as a people place has changed, Calverley says. In the past, the farm was the hub of family activity, with the entire family working together and everyone driven first and foremost by the objective of making the farm as successful as possible. Today, by contrast, family interaction no longer centres on the farm, Calverley says. “People are working off the farm, and children are more involved in extracurricular activities.” In the same timeframe, however, the farm as a business has changed at least as much. Today’s farms are larger and they operate in more competitive markets. The machinery is massive, too, because more work must be done in a shorter period of time. Such changes come with major implications for human resources. Many jobs on the farm today are too complex for a teenager just off the bus from high school. The equipment is too complicated, the jobs are too time sensitive, and the costs of getting it wrong can quickly become astronomic. Continued on page 36 country-guide.ca 35


Continued from page 35 Besides, in order to achieve their own work-life balance, farmers need knowledgeable and reliable employees. “Like other business owners, farmers face the challenge of attracting and retaining good labour,” Calverley says. “They need to offer an employment package which among other things allows for their employees to achieve a work-life balance.” Today’s farmers are also building business models with the specific intention of providing opportunities that support work-life balance and allow more family time and vacations. For example, Calverley worked with one operation involving three families. The first step was a family discussion to determine their personal and business goals for the purposes of creating a mission statement. All three partners identified work-life balance as one of their goals. As a result, they agreed upon vacation schedules and days off and wrote these into their policy manual. John Fast, an executive coach and president of Family Enterprise Solutions, has worked with farm families in every agricultural sector in every province. He sees the increased focus on work-life balance in the younger generation as a very positive change. When working with farm families, he has seen some family members — more often men but sometimes women — become addicted to work. “There’s nothing wrong with hard work but it can get excessive,” says Fast. “It gives people a sense of confidence, and a measure of control, but if we look deeper it’s often because they feel emotionally disconnected from others but don’t know what to do about it.” Such workaholic farmers might think they’re committed to the farm when in fact, they’re avoiding dealing with issues that would make them healthier, more effective managers. “They lack the ability to express themselves and to develop more intimacy in

36 country-guide.ca

their relationships,” explains Fast. “I’ve seen a lot of pain and depression among farmers as a result.” Fast recommends farm couples participate in a marriage-enrichment workshop. They're a good way to tune-up a marriage, they’re fun, and they’re a tool for moving up to peak performance, he says. Such programs stimulate discussion and open up the communication lines, Fast says. “Often spouses have no idea what the other person wants to get out of life.” Farmers must be disciplined about scheduling vacations and time off, continues Fast. “If you are emotionally healthy you will find ways to create positive time to spend with your family,” he says. If it’s just not possible to schedule big blocks of time away from the farm, use smaller blocks of time to participate in activities you enjoy. He also recommends cultivating friendships and social networks. The next generation who will be successful will “professionalize their farms” and run them more like businesses, says Fast. With a better understanding of work-life balance, the younger generation will manage their time differently than previous generations. In Fast’s experience, the older generation seems to feel the need to do everything themselves. But a division of labour which creates clear roles for those involved in the operation frees up time and allows them to use it more creatively. Unfortunately, this increased emphasis on time off by the younger generation can create tension between the generations. The tendency of the younger generation to manage their time differently may be seen by the older generation as a criticism of their own lifestyle, or they may think the younger generation is less committed. That’s the wrong message for parents to draw, says Calverley. Work-life balance is good for the business, Calverley says. In fact, it should be a business objective, and it should be discussed and planned for just like any other part of the business, with actionable plans and a firm commitment to implementing them. Calverley says that while it is challenging, worklife balance can be achieved by creating a business plan and a cash flow forecast that supports this goal. And there’s good reason to make work-life balance one of your business goals, she says. Close personal relationships are essential for helping us weather the storms of life and the stresses of farming. CG

NOVEMBER 2011

PHOTO CREDIT: DAVID CHARLESWORTH

BUSINESS


business

More, more, more Senior execs at Case IH tell us what you’ll be buying next year (hint: big on precision ag, flatter on CVTs) By Scott Garvey, CG Machinery Editor More new tractor and combine models have been rolled out in 2011 than ever before, thanks in part to strong farm commodity prices that have farmers buying equipment at a pace that has assembly lines working at top speed. Those farmers aren’t just looking for the new-car smell. They’re demanding bigger, better and more efficient. In today’s superheated marketplace, last year’s technology is already out of date, and manufacturers can’t afford to sit on their hands. For an insider’s perspective, Country Guide sat down with two senior executives at Case IH. Jim Walker is head of the company’s North American agricultural operations, and Collin Rush is senior director of speciality business in North America. Here’s how they see the industry, the insatiable demand for new technology, and future market demand. CG: Why are we seeing so much new technology hit the market all at once? Jim Walker: I can only answer from our standpoint, but five years ago the company made a conscious decision to do two things. First and foremost was to assure top reliabilJim Walker ity in our existing products in the marketplace. Then, second was to take us to a leading competitive position with our core-competency products. What we’re seeing now is, we have the highest reliability rating for our products that I can remember. Now along with the completion of our Tier 4 Magnums and Steigers, which we just introduced, we’re introducing Tier 4 on the combines for next year. We’ve completed a massive renovation of our product offering, on virtually every core product we offer. CG: Are we going to continue to see this pace of new product releases from Case IH in the coming seasons, or was this an exceptional year? Walker: I think the pace may slow somewhat. We have plans for some avenues we haven’t completed yet, like CVT transmissions and tracks on row-crop tractors. Those are in our short-term future plans. But for me, the next generation of product technology is certainly the precision-farming field. That’s going to be the product of the future for us. CG: Now that Case IH has its plan and technology in place to meet Final Tier 4 engine emissions standards, will that free up engineering resources to focus on other systems, like precision farming products? Walker: What we did was take advantage of our heritage and engine development experience with Iveco (a sister company also owned by Fiat Group). November 2011

So, yes we did put quite a few resources toward the development of Tier 4, but really it was more about adapting it to agriculture. We had already been running Tier 4 engines in the truck industry for five years or so, especially in Europe. We really didn’t think we had to make a decision about which technology we were going with, EGR or SCR. We already had our minds made up. But we had to make sure it was applicable to our agricultural products. I think a lot of companies had to put a lot of resources toward that, but in our case, with a proven example, it really doesn’t free up that much (engineering resources) in our agricultural sector. CG: This year you announced the formation of a new division within Case IH that will work with Trimble, your technology provider, to create new precision-farming products for the brand. Has demand in that area grown significantly? Collin Rush: It (precision farming) used to be an attachment, even up to just a few years ago. Precision farming used to be defined as just guidance technology. But what we’re seeing now is it’s becoming impossible to separate the machine from the technology. The integration is Collin Rush huge. We’ve stopped treating it as an add-on; we’re treating it as a ground-up integration. Technology going forward is going to be completely integrated into that machine with telematics and vehicle control. We’ve got things in the works ready to release in the next 12 to 18 months that will be game-changers for Continued on page 38 country-guide.ca 37


business Continued from page 37 a lot of our equipment. It’s a very critical part of our plans. Walker: It (precision farming technology) has already shown it’s a necessity for the future. Up until this year, tractor autoguidance ready for plug and play used to be an option; now it’s standard equipment. We know customers are going to at least want auto-guidance. Three or four years ago when it was an option, we used to have a 10 to 30 per cent rate of take. CG: Is the demand for guidance and precision technology confined to highhorsepower equipment or is it filtering down to lower-horsepower machines? Rush: We’ve had a lot of requests from fleet customers who run tractors in the 100-horsepower range, that they want telematics monitoring of their equipment. It’s being integrated in all areas. For small producers it’s not as big a request, certainly. But I’d say it’s 80 per cent of our focus right now. Machines all across our product range are going to have some sort of technology influence from telematics. CG: Is the joint effort with Trimble going to result in some Case IH-specific products that won’t be available through Trimble’s own product line? Rush: Yes, absolutely. That is part of our agreement to provide branded products that integrate with our ISOBUS systems. There will be things that won’t be available through Trimble’s other dealers. CG: Speaking of ISOBUS, is Case IH moving toward full ISOBUS-compliant systems? Rush: Where we can. We’ve put out that open architecture system to at least be compatible with aftermarket systems. We do have some proprietary technology. We truly believe with mixed fleets ISOBUS is the key to meeting producers’ needs. CG: Case IH is increasing the number of models offering CVT transmissions. Is there a growing demand for CVT? Walker: I think some sectors, such as potato or beet growing that use the type of harvesting equipment that requires constant speed and torque, along with manure hauling and those types of things, created the demand for it. As discretionary income became a little more available, people thought that was the best new transmission available, and a lot of people were equating IVT or CVT with maximizing fuel economy. Now, a lot of manufacturers (including Case IH) have introduced performance management systems that develop 38 country-guide.ca

About Case IH Case IH along with sister brand New Holland (and Steyr in Europe) make up the agricultural machinery brands consolidated under CNH Global, a majority-owned subsidiary of Fiat Group. Case IH products are sold through a network of about 4,900 dealers in more than 160 countries around the world. In 2010, North America accounted for about 41 per cent of CNH’s nearly US $14.5 billion in net sales, making it the second-largest global farm equipment manufacturer behind John Deere. Case IH was formed with the merger of Case Corporation and International Harvester in 1985, and it can trace its origins back as far as 1842, when the original J.I Case company was founded. In 1999, Case IH became part of CNH Global.

the best fuel economy (in any transmission type). Up until this point IVT/CVT represented fuel economy or a specifictask transmission. Now I think fuel management systems have separated out the need for many CVTs. But they’ve found their niche now, and they’ll remain important for the industry. CG: The new Case IH Magnum with 370 horsepower is the largest tractor on the North American market to offer a CVT transmission. Will CVTs be available in even larger tractors in the future? Walker: We’re leaving ourselves options. If we see a demand for it with other implement sizes and horsepower requirements, we’ll go there. The other avenue we’re exploring is taking the Steiger styling, from the point of a fourwheel drive, and putting that into a rowcrop, Quad Trac-type system. That might be the answer to producers’ needs as opposed to a CVT. CG: The Case IH dealer network operated by Rocky Mountain across the West is the largest in Canada. Is the large multi-outlet dealership group the best way to provide the level of sales and service needed by modern farmers? Walker: Rocky Mountain is a publicly traded company and there is another in the U.S., Titan Machinery, which is also publicly traded. In working with dealers that large we’re certainly showing we’re not afraid of being involved with that type of ownership. I certainly think whether it’s publicly or privately owned, we’re open to that; we’re not trying to drive it one way or the other. The

most important thing is that your footprint (as a dealer) has to be one that gives you the economics to make you competitive. It (dealership size) is competitively driven. CG: Farm size, too, is growing. If you look to the future, do you see machinery size and the demand for horsepower continuing to grow as well? Walker: One of the things that drives the industry is the need to be profitable. We had our ups and downs in the 80s and 90s, which led to growth in farm size. There certainly was a consolidation all across the industry that happened quickly, but now with the new economics, I think it’s slowed a bit. There are a limited number of acres out there and not all of it is for sale. It’s very clear that as other opportunities appear, such as specialty crops or as the economics of farming change, there’s going to be some balance out there in the size of farm operations. The used equipment market will demand that also. We can’t just sell all new, large equipment and expect that to disappear. It has to go somewhere. CG: Farm equipment manufacturers have been enjoying strong profits and growth despite trouble in the global economy. Do you foresee continuing strong machinery sales? Walker: We see good commodity prices driving decent farm income for the next number of years. As long as we have a strong global demand for farm commodities, these prices, along with a weaker U.S. dollar, will sustain demand for machinery. CG November 2011


business

“The best family farms” The young-farmer problem has its own dimensions for Hutterites, where each colony must found another

By Gerald Pilger

ll too often, a farm’s success is measured exclusively in economic terms. It’s a job we know how to do. Net income, net worth, debt to equity, return to investment, and profitability are great tools to use to determine the financial health of the business. Yet we know that success is defined by more than simple economics. For instance, when the Enterprise Council on Small Business asked Canadian business owners last year how they determine success, the response they got was one word: “satisfaction.” What makes satisfaction? There are a lot of contrib-

uting factors, of course, but for 41 per cent of owners in the council’s survey, there was an important component: “maintaining a healthy work/life balance.” “Too many people think that success is wrapped up in things,” says Ron Haynes, who has a degree in human resource management plus an MBA in marketing, and is currently a partner in a national building material company in the U.S. “But the truth is, success is wrapped up in how you see yourself and how you’re able to enjoy your life. To have a completely successful life along these lines, you’ll need to consider these six components: peace of mind, health Continued on page 41

Four rural myths Even after a century, many outsiders still believe the myths and spread the old rumours about Hutterite colonies in Western Canada. MNP’s Gordon Tait says it’s time to set the record straight:

Myth #1

Myth #4 Hutterite colonies are self-sufficient.

“Labour is anything but free on a colony,” says MNP’s Gordon Tait. “The colony looks after every need of every individual including housing, education, and even medical. This is a very high cost, even with the simple lifestyle of the Hutterites.”

“Colonies are far from self-sufficient," Tait says. “They are huge contributors to the agri-

Hutterites have an unfair advantage because of the free labour.

cultural economy, buying equipment, inputs, and supplies from local communities and marketing both raw commodities and processed products. It is estimated Hutterites are responsible for 10 per cent of the agricultural economy in Alberta.”

Myth #2

Hutterites are massive landowners controlling huge tracts of land. Hutterites own only about one per cent of the farmland in Canada, yet over 30,000 people live on the 340 colonies. In fact Hutterites farmers own and manage very little land on an acre-per-person basis

Myth #3 Hutterites don’t pay income tax. “Hutterites actually pay a significant amount of tax,” Tait says. “In 1961 the income tax act was changed and a section was added specifically addressing Hutterite colonies. The Hutterite community likely pays more income tax than the average business person or farmer.”

November 2011

On Manitoba’s Starlite Colony, James Hofer lives and farms in a culture that emphasizes the common good. It turns out to be a culture that is also a successful farm business model. country-guide.ca 39


BUSINESS

THE VIEW FROM INSIDE By P. M. Wipf Farm Steward Viking Hutterite Colony Viking, Alta. There are approximately 31,000 Hutterites in Canada, living on 340 colonies. Each colony has approximately 18 families working together to farm an average of 8,800 acres, or about 490 acres per family. That is not enough acres per family (farm) to be sustainable with today’s machinery. On a colony, since there are more than enough operators, equipment costs are minimized by sharing fewer pieces of machinery. Also, with that many families on those few acres, Hutterites have the ability to be selfsustainable in many areas. We are able to raise and process our own beef, pork, poultry, dairy etc. On-farm carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics and welders take care of building and repair needs. The ladies can be full-time moms and concentrate on homemaking, housekeeping, cooking, canning, etc. The basic Hutterite business model is mixed farming consisting of dairy, beef, poultry, hogs and agricultural land. But we have to take into consideration that some colonies are situated in areas that may be better suited for either crop farming or ranching, or they may be closer to certain markets such as hogslaughtering plants, oilfields, manufacturing or other opportunities. There is emphasis on marketing and promoting our production as fresh and good quality and adding value rather than shipping the raw products. For example, some colonies are now selling processed meat instead of live beef. Hutterite colonies have different levels of decision making, but virtually no decision is made alone. There are the elders, who consist of the minister, financial manager, field manager and one or two advisers, and the members who consist of all baptized males. The elders have a brief meeting every workday morning to discuss things like the day’s plans and activities. Subjects are first brought up at these everyday meetings. For instance, while the manager decides what to plant and what levels of input to use, his decisions are made with input from these meetings. Equipment purchasing is also discussed and prices from various dealers are gathered by the financial manager. Major decisions such as equipment upgrades and purchasing are then made at a general meeting with all members attending and providing input, preferences, and the pros and cons. The key to marketing the production of the 40 country-guide.ca

colony is knowing your cost of production (i.e. the break-even prices) and then trying to sell into a rising market. Marketing decisions vary from colony to colony depending on financial situations, bin space and cash flow, and production marketing is the financial manager’s decision with input from the elders. The key is not to get too greedy. Colonies work closely with financial advisers, keep good records and are continually monitoring their cost of production. The goals which Hutterite colonies set are very simple ones. Our whole objective is to put a roof over our head and food on the table. Like any other family farm, we are consciously aware and pay attention to planning. Hutterites are not get-rich quick, retire, build a mansion or travel the world to savour the well-earned fruits of a hard career or endeavour. No, it’s about leaving the colony (land and barns) in better shape for the next generation, preferably in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way for we are working with God’s creation (the land, earth) and we respect and honour that. It’s all about caring for our children and children’s children! The real strength of a Hutterite colony is being interdependent, working together, and the belief that the community is more important than any individual. There is no room for selfishness. One could conclude that the strength comes from leaders who are gifted and can inspire the members, and from members who treat their peers with dignity and respect. Other strengths or advantages include the willingness to share the workload, which provides the labour force needed for farming. Also important is a willingness to share the vision of profits going towards a common good (such as caring for the elderly, widowed and disabled) while providing a stable (if somewhat sheltered upbringing) for the young and providing for future generations.

Our goal is not necessarily to get rich. It is to sustain a lifestyle that is conductive to a Christian life for us and for our children. Other than pooling our labour and property we have no big advantage over other farms. We pay taxes and are price takers when we buy and sell commodities just like all other farmers. Non-Hutterite farmers could realize the same benefits by getting together and forming a buying company to purchase multiple pieces of equipment or other farm inputs. Farming is what Hutterites want to do. However, it is tough adjusting one’s heart and mind to the fact that it may not be possible and or profitable to do so. We understand very well that for the Hutterite community to sustain an agriculture livelihood there will be challenges and uphill battles, just like for anyone else. With farming and the challenges that we face, we recognize that more proactive planning will be necessary, such as better knowledge of the cost of production, future marketing, and working with consultants. A successful Hutterite farm could be described firstly as a place where you would want to raise your family and where children can be children, growing up riding horses, climbing trees, adventuring outside during the summer holidays, but also having the responsibility of certain chores such as helping in the summer garden, yard maintenance like cleaning up or mowing grass, helping with livestock, feeding calves, gathering eggs or many other things young people can do around the farm. It is a place where there is an atmosphere that is conductive to Christian life, where it is as David mentioned in the Psalms 133. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” If we (Hutterites) can be sustainable that is all we truly want. Being excessively rich is not our aim; our aim is geared more towards our next life… In conclusion, I’d like to say that we too are human and an imperfect people who from time to time make mistakes. We certainly don’t claim to be utopian. Really, we are all the same, just living out the challenge of life in different ways. We labour, worship, relax, chat and have fun living in peace with our loved ones as well as our neighbours. I would like for my fellow man to know it is these similarities of the human existence that unite us. We are all God’s children. Hutterites are a mosaic part of the multicultural Canada and we are thankful to call it our Home and Native land, thankful for our freedom of faith and livelihood. It also helps that Canada is the best country in the entire world. NOVEMBER 2011


business Continued from page 39 and energy, loving relationships, financial freedom, worthy goals, and personal fulfillment.” Based on this broader definition of success, the most successful farmers today may be the Hutterites. Not only does their business model make them incredibly efficient, but the social structure of the colonies nurtures their members with peace of mind, relationships, and personal fulfillment. Gordon Tait is the director of Hutterite services with Meyers, Norris, Penny, a company that has acted as adviser to the Hutterite brethren in Western Canada for over 50 years. Today, MNP represents 90 per cent of all the colonies in Canada. Tait sees a number of reasons behind the success of Hutterite farm operations. “Hutterites have a very strong commitment to the colony,” he says. “They are hard-working and dedicated. They have significant farming skills, and each colony has a very diversified skill set.” Tait points as well to the fact that colonies are primarily focused on agricultural production, and that the size of each colony enhances efficiency and enables diversification. “Hutterites are very adaptable and extremely efficient,” Tait says. “They have the ability to share and make decisions which benefit the entire community rather than an individual.”

Plus, Tait adds, “Their simple lifestyle and no need for personal assets reduces the resources allocated for personal needs.” To outsiders, a Hutterite colony may seem like a large industrial farm, but Tait believes Hutterites are probably the best example we have today of a family farm. “If you consider the number of families living on a colony, each family is supported by only 400-800 acres. “By working together for the good of all, they reduce costs,” Tait says. “Whereas 10 non-Hutterite farms would require 10 full lines of equipment, the Hutterites’ willingness to share equipment and labour significantly reduces the machiney investment.” The business model of a colony requires specialization of labour. While on most farms the operator has to be a jack-of-all-trades, hiring off-farm for specialized work, a colony trains a specific member for each job that is needed to be done. A colony will have an individual who is responContinued on page 42

Tips & Tales

We need your...

“By working for the good of all, they reduce costs.” — Gordon Tait

calving

Friends and neighbours, we are once again looking for your best calving tips and tales for Cattlemen’s expanded January 2012 Calving Special. We’re looking for good ideas, practical advice, or humorous tales and photos to share with fellow readers. A reward will be sent for Tips & Tales printed in this special. November 2011

Enter before November 30, 2011

Your reWard,

a limited edition

Canadian Cattlemen cap

Send your Calving TipS & TaleS (and your address) to:

Canadian Cattlemen

1666 Dublin Avenue Winnipeg, MB R3H 0H1 E-mail: gren@fbcpublishing.com Fax: 204-944-5416

country-guide.ca 41


business

Continued from page 41 sible for cropping and someone else who is responsible for each livestock sector. As well, each colony will have a carpenter, electrician, heavy-duty mechanic, and any other trade that is deemed necessary. “And if a colony doesn’t know how to do something, they are not afraid to learn,” says Tait. “One of the most important aspects of colony life is passing on knowledge and experience to the next generation. Mentoring the young people in skills is very important in the Hutterite culture.” The desire to learn and improve farming practices has made Hutterites early adopters of new technology. While they reject many lifestyle devices found in most homes, if new technology will increase farming efficiency, Hutterites will be among the first to embrace it. Computers and cellphones are now common on colonies. The difference is, their use is restricted to the farm business rather than for personal enjoyment. Yet technology has also reduced 42 country-guide.ca

labour requirements, which has led to a need for diversification strategies on many colonies. Colonies have diversified into non-agricultural businesses ranging from metalworking or carpentry. This willingness to diversify even prompted MNP to undertake a study in 2009 looking at the possibility of pairing Hutterite colonies with local food processors. That study (The Hutterite Option, Resourcing for the Future) found nearly 50 per cent of both food processors and Hutterite colonies see value in working together to bring new products to market. It found that partnering with a colony could provide both parties with advantages in labour, capital, resources, and even production quality. This diversification is partially driven by the need for a colony to be profitable, and while profitability is essential on all farms, it has some very concrete targets in Hutterite operations. Each colony must generate enough wealth to allow for creation of a new colony for the next generation. Colonies split on average about every

20 to 30 years, and it takes a huge investment to build a 7,000 to10,000 acre farm from scratch, especially when you also have to build housing and provide all of the services needed for the 60 to 160 people who will eventually be living there. “The ability of Hutterites to continually expand operations all comes back to their goal of working together in peace and harmony,” says Tait. Tait believes all farmers can learn from the Hutterites. Sometimes, the lessons can be very concrete, such as the benefits of sharing equipment in order to reduce inventories. Or the lessons might be structural, such as tapping into economies of scale by purchasing inputs co-operatively and marketing production jointly. “Farmers could learn the benefits of strong leadership, good communication, and meeting together on a regular basis by looking at the Hutterite decision-making process,” Tait says. “But most of all, farmers could learn benefits that occur when the decisions are made based on contributing to the common good.” CG November 2011

Photo credit: Dustin Leader • www.dustinleader.ca

Hutterites can be the first to incorporate computers and new technology into their farming, but not into their personal lives.


w e at h e r NEAR NORMAL

COOLER THAN NORMAL

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ld y Co ow ds Sn erio p

NEAR NORMAL SNOWFALL

C Sn old per owy iod s ional Occas / rain snow

SNOWIER THAN NORMAL

NEAR NORMAL TEMPERATURES AND PRECIPITATION

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ONTARIO

November 27, 2011 to January 21, 2012

Nov 27-Dec 3: Seasonal to mild. Blustery. Fair but rain or snow on a couple of days this week. Colder, snowy north. Dec. 4-10: Unsettled at times with occasional snow, blustery winds. Higher windchills. Chance of heavy snow mixed with rain south. Dec. 11-17: Temperatures vary under blustery winds. Expect rain and snow south on a couple days, heavier snow north. Dec. 18-24: Unsettled at times and blustery. Fair skies alternate with rain and snow south and heavy snow north. Dec. 25-31: Colder with higher windchills. Fair but snow on a few occasions, heavy in a few places. Cold, snowy north. Jan. 1-7: Unsettled on a couple days this week with snow and blustery winds. Chance rain southwest. Seasonal to cold. Jan. 8-14: Windy at times with higher windchills. Fair overall but snow, at times heavy near the open lakes. Jan. 15-21: Mostly cold with high windchills. Fair aside from snow on a couple days, heavier near open waters.

QUEBEC Nov. 27-Dec. 3: Variable temperatures and changeable from fair to snowy. Chance rain south. Heavier snow north. Dec. 4-10: Fair overall but snow at times heavy on a couple days. Seasonal to mild. Blustery from time to time. Dec. 11-17: Expect variable weather and temperatures this week with occasional heavier snow and a few windy days. November 2011

Dec. 18-24: Unsettled as fair, mild days interchange with snow and cold temperatures. Heavy snow in a few areas. Dec. 25-31: Variable temperatures averaging near to a bit above normal. Fair but heavier snow occurs on a couple days. Jan. 1-7: Mild, fair days exchange with colder, windy ones bringing occasional snow possibly heavy in places. Jan. 8-14: Generally fair with temperatures changing from mild to cold. Windy at times with snow on two or three occasions. Jan. 15-21: Cold air and higher windchills move in. Fair on many days apart from some snow, mainly near open waters.

ATLANTIC PROVINCES Nov. 27-Dec. 3: Fair overall but heavier rain east and snow west on two or three days this week. Windy. Fluctuating temperatures. Dec. 4-10: Unsettled at times and colder. Intermittent snow west, rain east. Risk heavy precipitation. Often windy. Dec. 11-17: Temperatures vary as cold and mild air collide. Occasionally windy with snow, mixed with rain on the coasts. Dec. 18-24: Fair overall but heavier snow falls on a couple of days, turning to rain in eastern regions. Blustery winds. Dec. 25-31: Mild to cold temperatures. Windy at times. Fair but snow on two or three days, changing to rain in coastal areas. Jan. 1-7: Fair and cold temperatures exchange with a milder, snowy days.

Chance heavy precipitation. Windy at times. Jan. 8-14: Unsettled on a few days this week as disturbances move by bringing snow and mostly cold temperatures. Jan. 15-21: Seasonal to occasionally cold. Fair but snow on two or three occasions, heavier on windward coasts. Blustery.

November 27, 2011 to January 21, 2012 NATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS This winter, a la Ni単a is poised to bring a stormy weather pattern to most of Western Canada, with British Columbia and the Prairies likely to bear the brunt of its inclement weather. It is expected that the southern portions of these provinces will be especially affected due to below-normal temperatures and heavier-than-usual snowfall. We also expect the cold, snowy conditions to advance into the Great Lakes by late December. However, readers living north and east of the Great Lakes basin all the way through to the Atlantic provinces can expect average winter conditions with near normal temperatures and near normal precipitation.

Prepared by meteorologist Larry Romaniuk of Weatherite Services. Forecasts should be 80 per cent accurate for your area; expect variations by a day or two due to changeable speed of weather systems. country-guide.ca 43


ACRES

By Leeann Minogue

Variable risk Dale remembers when he was the young one, trying to get his own father to accept change. Now he's the father and it’s his son Jeff who is talking fertilizer strategy. Can it turn out different this time? eff gulped. He could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead, but he wasn’t about to wipe it off, not with the whole family watching. This had been his idea. But now it seemed like such a big decision. “Well?” Jeff’s dad Dale asked. “Are we going ahead with this variable-rate fertilizer or not?” Six weeks ago it had seemed simple. Jeff had gone to his father with a proposal, expecting Dale to put up a fight or at least a good debate. Jeff had prepared all his arguments. “The equipment came installed with the new tractor” Jeff said. “And I’ve done some research. Three different guys I went to school with in Saskatoon used this company last year, and they were all happy.” Jeff wanted to have Echelon develop a custom fertilizer plan for Hanson Acres, based on their production history, their target yield, and the organic matter seen by satellite photos. “I took a look at the plan they made up for my friend Jason’s farm,” Jeff explained. “There were some fields where Jason needed to use a bit less fertilizer in total than he would normally, and some 44 country-guide.ca

where he had to add a little bit more. But by changing the rate within the field, Echelon figured he could make better use of the fertilizer. They made him a shiny binder,” Jeff passed around some pages he’d photocopied in his friend’s office. “See here,” he said, pointing to the numbers at the bottom of the page. “Echelon thought Jason could get canola yields about 10 bushels an acre higher in some fields.” “And how did that work out for him?” Dale asked. “It’s hard to say, Jeff admitted. “Jason was in the same boat as us last year. It was too wet to seed.” Ed hadn’t surprised anyone when he’d said, “We’re already spending too much money on fertilizer.” Ed is Dale’s father, Jeff’s grandfather. “Now you want to pay somebody to tell us to use even more in some places? Why don’t we just throw dollar bills out the window of the tractor while we seed? Maybe the birds could use them for nests.” Dale and his wife Donna hadn’t really been on board either. “Interesting idea,” Dale said. “But I’m not convinced the technology works well enough yet. Remember harvest in 2009? That stupid GPS NOVEMBER 2011


acres monitor in the combine broke down on the third day of harvest and those guys from the dealership didn’t figure out how to fix it until we had the whole crop in the bin.” Donna wondered why they couldn’t just use the GPS yield maps they already had (from the years when the monitor actually worked), and vary the rate themselves. “You’re right there in the cab,” she said. “And you know the fields better than anyone.” “Mother Nature doesn’t work in straight rows, Mom,” Jeff told his mother. “And it’s easy to see in some places — places that are really extreme one way or the other. The real challenges are the places where we need just a little bit more or less fertilizer than average.” That left Jeff’s wife, Elaine. “I’ve only been part of this farm for a year,” Elaine said. “And it wasn’t exactly a great year.” Jeff and Elaine had left city jobs to move back to Hanson Acres just in time for the 2011 spring flood. They’d only managed to seed 500 of their 6,000 acres. “But the method seems sensible,” Elaine went on. “And lots of people are using it. I don’t see what it could hurt to just meet with the guy.” Ed complained. “Now I suppose we have talk to everybody who sends us a flyer in the mail. Good thing that guy who wanted everybody to breed pigeons has gone out of business, or we’d be giving him coffee and muffins too.” Dale’s final comment had surprised Jeff. “Let’s go ahead and meet with these guys,” he’d said. “At least we’ll know what we’re not doing.” So Jeff had phoned Echelon, and the president, Tom Staples, had come out to talk to the Hanson family. He’d given a good presentation. Ed had forgotten to be sarcastic, and even interrupted to ask a few helpful questions. Now Tom was gone, and the Hanson’s were sitting around the table, swirling the dregs of their coffee around in their cups. Jeff had been butting heads with his father all spring and summer, trying to become part of the decision-making process on the farm. Now he finally had his chance. And he didn’t know what to say. Compared to the potential profit, the $7.50 per acre cost seemed like a small price to pay. But when Jeff got out his calculator and multiplied $7.50 by their 6,000-acre farm, he kept getting $45,000. Jeff and Elaine had friends who november 2011

Dale had vowed he’d treat his son differently. Respect his opinions. Make him a real partner… but boy this was hard. didn’t earn that much money in an entire year. Could he really spend that much on something that wasn’t a sure thing? What if it didn’t work? Did he want to be responsible for that kind of loss? Tom had said they could wade in slowly, only try part of the farm in the first year. But still… And of course, the Hanson family knew that too much snow melt and spring rain might bring the second year running with almost no crop. Maybe this wasn’t the time to take a big risk. And Jeff and Elaine had a two-year old at home. Would this spending decision put his son’s future at risk? Dale could see his son starting to panic. Dale remembered what it had been like for him, 20 years earlier, trying to convince Ed to use more fertilizer on the farm. Ed hadn’t made it easy. He’d mocked Dale’s arguments that fertilizer was an investment, not an expense. Dale had run test strips for three years straight to convince his father that the fertilizer would more than pay for itself. Ed had been a bit touchy about the subject ever since. Dale had vowed he’d treat his son differently. Respect his opinions. Make him a real partner in decision-making when the time came. But, boy, this was hard. Then Dale remembered the year he’d wanted to seed coriander. Ed had tried to talk him out of that too. “Don’t know why we’d want to grow strange foreign spices, when we’re doing just fine with durum,” Ed had complained.

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Dale’s risk had failed spectacularly. An early frost wiped out the whole crop. The smell of rotting coriander lingered over the farm for weeks, giving Ed a reason to make smart remarks every time he stepped outside. Not every risk will work out, but every farmer has to learn to take responsibility for his own. Finally Jeff spoke. “Let’s try it. On those two sections over by the lake. That spot has the most variation on the farm. If it’s going to make a difference anywhere, it’s going to be there.” “Alright,” said Dale, trying not to show his relief spending less than $10,000 on this venture, instead of $45,000. “Sounds like a good choice.” “I’m not setting foot in that tractor if there’s going to be another computer to run,” Ed said, shaking his head. CG

Trait Stewardship Responsibilities Notice to Farmers Monsanto Company is a member of Excellence Through StewardshipSM (ETS). Monsanto products are commercialized in accordance with ETS Product Launch Stewardship Guidance, and in compliance with Monsanto’s Policy for Commercialization of Biotechnology-Derived Plant Products in Commodity Crops. This product has been approved for import into key export markets with functioning regulatory systems. Any crop or material produced from this product can only be exported to, or used, processed or sold in countries where all necessary regulatory approvals have been granted. It is a violation of national and international law to move material containing biotech traits across boundaries into nations where import is not permitted. Growers should talk to their grain handler or product purchaser to confirm their buying position for this product. Excellence Through StewardshipSM is a service mark of Excellence Through Stewardship. ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Roundup Ready® crops contain genes that confer tolerance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup® agricultural herbicides. Roundup® agricultural herbicides will kill crops that are not tolerant to glyphosate. Acceleron™ seed treatment technology for corn is a combination of four separate individually-registered products, which together contain the active ingredients metalaxyl, trifloxystrobin, ipconazole, and clothianidin. Acceleron™, Acceleron and Design™, DEKALB®, DEKALB and Design®, Genuity®, Genuity and Design®, Genuity Icons, Roundup®, Roundup Ready®, Roundup Ready 2 Technology and Design®, Roundup Ready 2 Yield®, RIB Complete and Design™, RIB Complete™, SmartStax®, SmartStax and Design®, VT Double PRO™, VT Triple PRO™ and YieldGard VT Triple® are trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC, Monsanto Canada, Inc. licensee. LibertyLink® and the Water Droplet Design are trademarks of Bayer. Used under license. Herculex® is a registered trademark of Dow AgroSciences LLC. Used under license. Respect the Refuge and Design is a trademark of the Canadian Seed Trade Association. Used under license. (TR2054-E-06/11)

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LIFE

CANADIANS IN RUSSIA

Precision ag company Farmers Edge is hiring retired farmers to help Russian farms adopt new technology. It turns out, both sides learn a lot By Rebeca Kuropatwa

liff Suntjens enjoys telling the story. “One swelteringly hot day, I was out soil testing with Valery, a Russian agrologist, and our driver,” Suntjens tells me. “We’d been out for hours and were all tired and sweaty when Valery suggested a swim. He directed our driver to cut across country to a large reservoir that sat in the middle of nowhere. We all jumped out of the truck, shed our clothes, and leapt into the water for one of the most refreshing swims of my life. “Then Valery led us to a berry patch nearby where we gorged on juicy blackberries,” continues Suntjen, a 64-year-old retired farmer born and raised on his parents’ Coronation, Alta. ranch. “It was a wonderful, spontaneous time that brought back memories of my childhood during the Prairie summers.” If we're technical, swimming and blackberry eating aren’t really the reasons why Winnipeg-based precision ag company Farmers Edge had sent Suntjens to Russia. But then, they weren’t exactly “not” why they sent him there either. Farmers Edge has hit on a strategy of hiring retired Canadian farmers to help Russian farmers bring both their management skills and their technology up to cutting-edge standards. It’s an adventure for the Canadians, but it’s also a chance for them to make a difference for farm families half way around the world. And it turns out it’s a very effective way of helping farmers there make management changes that can help them rapidly climb the technology ladder. Back in 2005, co-founders Wade Barnes and Curtis Mackinnon launched Farmers Edge in Pilot Mound, Man. with a mission that revolved around The Four R’s of precision agriculture — “the right product, at the right amount, in the right place, at the right time.” Barnes and Mackinnon had both been working on the retail side of agriculture and shared an interest in precision agriculture and variable-rate technology. Their venture rapidly grew, and today Farmers Edge is ranked 11th by PROFIT magazine in its list of 46 country-guide.ca

Canada’s 200 fastest-growing companies, aided by a customer base of tech-savvy Canadian farmers eager to boost their yields while managing costs. Now, the company is looking to expand its model overseas. “Farmers Edge has grown domestically and across all three Prairie Provinces,” says Kolby Nichol, Farmers Edge international business manager. “Today, there are about 50 reps in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta focusing on precision agriculture.” Nichol and his team deliver a unique range of professional farm-management services to farms around the world, including Eastern Europe, the United States, South America, and Australia. The challenge in Russia is to foster the uptake of cutting-edge technology in an agriculture that by international standards has languished for decades. From a Canadian perspective, it’s a whole career’s worth of innovation that the Russians need to integrate in the space of just a few growing seasons. So, who better to show them how to do it than the Canadian farmers who lived through and embraced all those changes? Even better is when you put experienced Canadian farmers in front of eager-to-learn Russians who have years of farming ahead of them. “We’ve found what works best is matching up younger guys with retirement-aged (Canadian) farmers looking for a transition from the farm,” says Nichol. “There are lots of farmers in that demographic here looking for a transition into something different,” Nichol says. “There aren’t a lot of younger guys with families looking to go overseas for the growing season or six months at a time. Retired farmers have fewer ties here and are able to do this sort of thing.” Starting in 2009, Farmers Edge sent farmer consultants to work on a massive 500,000-acre farm. There, they found exceptional production conditions, including deep soils with two feet and sometimes more of top soil, plus a range of rainfall and temperatures similar to Western Canada. Still, the farmers there hadn’t begun their transiNOVEMBER 2011


LIFE tion to zero tillage. Nor did they find that Russia’s farmers gave the same priority to constantly searching out and incorporating new technology that the Canadians were used to at home. And the technology they do have, such as sprayers, often isn’t managed for peak accuracy or efficiency. “In Russian culture, risk-taking isn’t really rewarded, so it can be hard to interest the farmers there to try something different,” says Nichol. “Using these long-time farmers as consultants is a big help.” “We look for guys who like to travel and see something different within agriculture, as well as being able to go overseas and really immerse themselves in another culture,” Nichol adds. “You’re more than just a tourist. You get to see the real Russia.” In fact, not only do the Canadians get to see that Russia, they need to work closely within it because, when there are so many areas of potential improvement, it can take solid planning to prioritize which changes need to get pushed to the top of the line.

Cliff Suntjen in Russia Cliff Suntjen shares the twin passions that drive most of Farmers Edge’s farm consultants. He loves farming, but he wants to make a difference beyond his farm too. Suntjens is similar to other farmers too in how he looks at himself. “I now find myself humbler than in my youth,” he says. “I realize that in this ever-changing field I’m not an expert in any area, but a layman with a great deal of valuable experience.” In 2008, Suntjens applied for a job with Farmers Edge. In April 2009, he and his wife Willa went to Russia to work with a large entrepreneurial Russian farm company encouraging no-till farming and alternative dryland crops. “It was like coming home,” said Suntjens. “The climate, the land, and the crops were similar to those of Canada’s Prairies. However, the culture, the farmers’ experiences, and the infrastructure were a world apart. I was often frustrated, but I loved it.” Part of the reason the frustration turned to satisfaction was a change in attitude by the Russians. At first, he admits, he found them “very standoffish, but after they got to know me they became very friendly, accepting, and fun. Seeing and feeling this change was particularly gratifying.” And, he adds, “Knowing a bit about hockey went a long way.” NOVEMBER 2011

Wallace Orr’s story With 35 years of farm management and grain trading experience, Manitoba farmer Wallace Orr (53) also does Farmers Edge consulting, including eight months in Russia in 2010. Like other consultants, Orr is careful to not downplay the challenges. “The Russians may not have invented bureaucracy, but they have perfected it,” says Orr. “At times the paperwork involved in trying to get things done can be very frustrating. Something that would take 15 minutes to do in Canada can take half a day in Russia.” Still, he also points to gratifying progress. “The people there who we worked with were generally good — a bit sceptical at first but warmed up in time. Generally, people are the same wherever you go. Everyone wants a big TV, a nice car, and a nice house. Everyone’s looking for the middle class lifetime.” The biggest challenge Orr encountered consulting in Russia last year was the heat and drought (with temperatures of 42 degrees and 90 per cent humidity). “They don’t have a lot of irrigation in Russia,” he says. “They could probably have more.” Another hurdle Orr experienced in Russia was the traffic, which, he says, “is just nuts. Canada has nothing on Russia. The roads are all packed with people driving like they’re in Formula One.” On the upside, Orr said, “Exploring the country, the land, in Russia was definitely a highlight. The infrastructure is pretty good too. The Moscow subway system is incredible. The rivers are amazing, and there are lots of trees.” To do overseas consulting work, Orr says, “You need to be flexible, have a positive attitude, be patient, have a sense of adventure, enjoy trying new things (especially on the farm level), and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. “You only live once, and to get the opportunity to see and learn a different culture is incredible — and an opportunity not a lot of people get.”

George Thomas Wady Of the 31 years that George Thomas Wady (54) actively farmed, 24 of them were in no-till, so in 2009, Farmers Edge asked him to work as a consultant for them in Russia. Wady at first said no because the overlap of seasons would keep him away from his home farm at critical times.

Approached again after retiring, Wady began working for Farmers Edge in Russia in 2011. The biggest highlight in Wady’s Russian adventure was “seeing areas of Russia that are very far off the beaten path and meeting Russian individuals in those areas. Contrary to the stereotype, once you’re introduced, most of the people have a great sense of humour, and are interested in your impressions of Russia, and in what farming is like in Canada.” Like Orr and Suntjens, Wady agrees that effective consultants need “good communication skills, some computer skills, the ability to work in a team environment, curiosity about and an interest in experiencing a different culture, accepting the challenge and adventure of living and working in a foreign country, and a sense of humour in dealing with the challenges. “The Russian farm staff need to be open to new ideas, have an interest in technology, weigh the benefits of these ideas and technologies, and accept the limitations of working through a translator.” That’s the kind of thinking that experienced Canadian farmers excel at, Nichols says. “We’re very flexible with time for our consultants. We can rotate guys in and out with breaks in between. All of them have brought their wives with them for at least some of the time. Together, they’ll take a week or two of holidays at a time and go travelling in Western Europe or beyond. “We send two people there at a time, staying in the same apartment. They stay in a larger centre (not a small village) so they have amenities and the ability to have more of a social and cultural life — something to do outside of work. We cover food, accommodations, and expenses (cell phone, Internet, etc.), and travel expenses. All Farmers Edge consultants are accompanied by interpreters. Although some Russian farmers do speak English, having interpreters aids in effective communication. “In terms of growing our program, our limiting factor is getting good people over there,” said Nichol. “The demand is huge. The project will grow as fast as we can staff it.” Suntjens sees growth ahead too. “Once infrastructure improves and credit becomes more available, Russian farmers will certainly be an international agricultural force.” CG country-guide.ca 47


h e a lt h

Your amazing gastrointestinal tract By Marie Berry lmost all of us take our gastrointestinal tracts for granted. We shouldn’t. Starting at our mouths and continuing all the way to our nether ends, our GI tracts are amazing, essential systems, that take the food we eat and convert it into energy that our bodies use. The process begins in your mouth with your teeth and tongue chewing food and breaking it down into smaller pieces that are easier for the rest of the GI tract to handle. Then comes what is called the esophagus, the passageway from the mouth to the stomach. Actual digestion begins in the stomach where stomach acids and gastric digestive enzymes begin breaking down the food. Partially digested food then moves to the small intestine, where digestion is completed. The small intestine is lined with some 7,000 tiny projections called villi that absorb nutrients from the digested food. Any remaining food material passes to the large intestine where water is absorbed and finally where the undigested remains are excreted from the body. The whole process — including the descent through the 15 to 30 feet of GI tract, based on your size — takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours depending upon the food you eat and the health of your GI tract. Each part of the GI tract is joined to the next part with a stretchy band of muscle called a sphincter which prevents back flow, and the entire system (with the exception of chewing) is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, so everything happens automatically and you don’t need to consciously think about digestion. When you eat something that doesn’t agree with you, or when you eat too much, indigestion can occur. Antacids reduce the stomach’s acid content and will stop your symptoms. However, they can also reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics like tetra-

A headache can be severe enough to stop your normal activity or minor enough to just be annoying. It can also be a symptom of an underlying condition. While you will see many headache remedies for sale everywhere, choosing the right one is important. Next month, we’ll talk about matching the remedy to the type of headache.

48 country-guide.ca

cycline and ciprofloxacin. Make sure you take your antacid one to two hours before or after your antibiotic, and if you take medication regularly check with your pharmacist for potential interactions before you take an antacid. One group of stomach remedies contains bismuth subsalicylate and you may not realize that this ingredient is a type of salicylate. If you are taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for conditions like arthritis, or if you are taking a daily ASA tablet for heart health, the addition of salicylate from the stomach remedy may lead to adverse effects. As well, if you are have a sensitive stomach, a salicylate allergy, or even a blood coagulation problem, the added salicylate can complicate your health. Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs reduce acid production in the stomach and are often used for indigestion and conditions like reflux disease. However, in reducing the stomach’s acid level, they can reduce the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium. With long-term use, your risk for conditions like osteoporosis can actually increase. It is a myth that you need a bowel movement each and every day. However you should be regular, whatever your “regular” may be. Unfortunately, some people over-use laxatives, especially stimulant ones, in order to achieve what they perceive as regular bowel habits. Fluid and mineral imbalances, dehydration, and even dependency on the laxative can result. A better approach is to eat a diet high in fibre and fluids, and if you need a laxative choose a bulk-forming or stool-softening one. Your GI tract is indeed amazing and you want to keep it that way. You may feel uncomfortable talking about symptoms that you may experience. An odd case of diarrhea or constipation is usually normal, but if your bowel habits have changed, or if you experience pain, blood in your stool, or an unexplained weight loss, get it checked. And, if you are asked to do a fecal occult blood test or FOBT, get it done. These tests are usually recommended after age 50 and they are able to spot minute amounts of blood that may indicate polyps or colon cancer. After all you want to take care of your GI tract, not take it for granted. Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health care and education. November 2011


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“Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?” It’s a familiar question. The pessimist says the glass is half empty and the optimist says the glass is half full. The illustration suggests other questions about life. What if someone asks you to share whatever is in the glass? Are you blessed or needy, rich or poor? Do you choose to live gratefully and generously, or resentfully and selfishly? “The glass is half empty” inspires one way of living. The other perspective (it is half full) inspires a radically different way. Yet both are based on the same objective facts: the same glass, the same stuff in it. Optimism or pessimism affects our response to a situation, and our relationships with others. Jesus told a parable — a story with a message — about a sower. I can imagine Jesus watching a farmer who has a bag slung over his shoulder. The bag holds precious seeds which the sower broadcasts by hand. He tosses the seed in every direction. “As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” The story is about sowing seeds, but it is also about life. Imagine yourself as a sower, sharing good things with others, growing hope and helping people live meaningful lives. Sowing means, as young people say, “doing stuff.” It means action. It involves reaching out to people, serving, caring and risking. Sometimes our efforts lead to hurt and disappointment. We offer our selves, our time, our energy, our caring, to others. Occasionally we wonder if it is worth it. Is anything of value going to come from our contribution? Perhaps our efforts to build a new community hall, a bigger and better arena, or an addition to the church are wasted like some of the sower’s seed. Once I was asked to chair a worthy project. I soon discovered that all the work was dumped on me, and I was criticized whenever things did not meet our expectations. Jesus says “Keep on sowing.” What Jesus said about problems — thin soil, rocks, fat birds, thorns, weeds, whatever — was old news to his listeners. Much of what was sowed was wasted. They knew that. A farmer shows confidence that, even if some seed is wasted, the harvest will surely come. The part of the story that shocked the first people who heard it was the yield, the “harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” To get a crop 100 times the amount of seed sown was an amazing result in a dry, rocky land. With this vision you don’t mind the rocks or birds or gravel or whatever else may get in the way. All of that doesn’t matter. It is swallowed up in the promise of the whole enterprise. The positive perspective, the promise of a vast harvest, is the heart of this story. If our efforts have not been noticed or we feel we are not getting anywhere, we may decide to give up. But if we continue trying, sometimes we will succeed. God will make more of our efforts than we can imagine. Suggested Scripture: Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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Rod Andrews is a retired Anglican bishop. He lives in Saskatoon. NOVEMBER 2011

country-guide.ca 49


Va l l e y

Baby, it’s damp out there

ur family Christmas can happen either side of the 25th by as much as 45 days. Spread out across the country as we are, with a sister or a brother-in-law or an aged aunt in every province, we use Facebook to track the movements of relatives in space and time. Then, when we sense an alignment of the stars, we book a hall at the mid-point. Sometimes we make do with a minireunion, such as the one that occurred last month in Manitoba. My wife’s brothers invited me to join them for their annual duck hunt in a remote marsh in Lake Winnipeg. They know I’m ho-hum about duck hunting but they really like my old dog, Snifferbones, who happens to be a real keener in the marsh. He was a rescue pup, a Labradoodle who lived in a city basement for two years before he was dumped off on us. There must have been quite a library in that basement, because the dog knows more about ducks than Jack London. There is a certain irony involved here. Hughie, Dewey and Louie farm in three separate time zones, yet each of them at different times experienced such appalling wet weather that this trip had to be paid for by the crop insurance corporation. You’d think the guys would choose someplace warm and dry for their gettogether, like perhaps the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. But no, for three days we shivered in a rowboat bobbing in four feet of frigid green water on Lake Win50 country-guide.ca

nipeg, reflecting on one of the strangest crop years we had ever seen. The most cheerful one in the group was Snifferbones, because it’s been a good year for ducks, if no one else, and they passed over us in Biblical abundance. “It was so wet, we had ducks in the driveway in June,” recalled Dewey, who cash crops near Brandon. “So we took the advice of our accountant/therapist and just packed up and took a drive west, picked up Hughie in Weyburn and went for a holiday in Glacier Park in the campervan. First time I’ve taken that kind of time off since high school.” Hughie nodded. “The old guys used to say that in a dry year you worry to death but in a wet year you starve to death. We planted one field twice and we watched it all float down the roadside twice.” Louie, from Ontario, shrugged. “I’ve never planted corn as late as we did this year — June 15th. I never thought it would ripen. But I went out in October to combine and after three passes I was averaging 165 bushels… best ever where I am. Then on the fourth pass, the heavens opened and I haven’t been back in the field since. Looks like another spring harvest.” What are you going to do? There was a rustle of many wings above and Snifferbones woofed at us to be quiet. The sun suddenly broke out over the rushes, turning the marsh to a bright mirror as 50 mallards and blue-wings circled, fluttered down and splashed

into the surface right in front of us. It was just like one of those paintings on an easel at a Ducks Unlimited auction. Nobody in the blind spoke for a minute. “Pretty,” said Hughie finally. “I’ve got my limit for the day,” said Dewey. Louie said, “Me, too,” and fumbled in his coat for his camera. “Sheesh!” said Snifferbones flopping his ears in frustration. “In some ways the summer turned out okay,” said Hughie, “After the Glacier trip we went to Vancouver to visit my daughter for a couple of weeks and got to know her kids a lot better. ” “Yeah,” said Dewey. “We joined a bicycle group and Sarah lost about 20 pounds. She looks great.” “My doctor says my blood pressure is way down,” said Louie. “He asked me if I was exercising and I said nope, I just took the Weather Channel off my satellite system. And I spent a lot of time this summer straightening up the place for Kitty’s wedding next spring.” When we parted, we agreed it had been a great “Christmas” and made plans to do it again next year. Louie and I yakked all the way home to Ontario and had a great visit. Snifferbones thought it was good, too. He was full of duck stroganoff and Advil and passed out in the back seat. Wingfield’s World, the complete collection of Dan Needles’ Letters from Wingfield Farm was published this fall by Random House. November 20,2011

ILLUSTRATION: RICK KURKOWSKI

Dan Needles is the author of “Wingfield Farm” stage plays. His column is a regular feature in Country Guide


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