When Mark Pawluk joined his parents back on the farm in 1999, after completing his degree in agribusiness at the University of Manitoba, he was open to new opportunities and challenges.
Pursing those opportunities and developing a successful value-added farm business contributed to he and his wife Cori being named Manitoba’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2015.
Along with taking over the family farm in 2011, after his parents retired, Pawluk looked for new opportunities to expand the operation. His parents still help out with producing grains and oilseeds grown on about 5,700 acres of deeded and rented land.
About 10 years ago the Pawluks bought a former line-company elevator in the town of Birtle, about eight miles away. Unlike a lot of others who purchased decommissioned elevators, the Pawluks were able to keep the railway siding in place and continue to ship carloads of grain.
“It’s been a huge advantage to have that facility and rail siding because it opens us to the world,” says Mark. “We aren’t just limited to trucking our grain to other nearby elevators.”
Access to storage and the rail line, has given them the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities and higher value niche markets. “We are growing malt barley and shipping it directly to end users,” says Mark. “End users are actively looking to work with individual growers because in some cases they may only need 500 tonnes of good quality barley and the larger grain companies aren’t interested in these smaller programs.”
Pawluk’s philosophy is to always treat the farm as a business. “If you treat it like a business you will see new opportunities and ways to differentiate yourself,” he says. Along with the elevator, the Pawluks also built a plant next to the elevator which processes flax for pet food and human consumption.
“We are processing flax today because we have a contract providing steady business, but six months from now we could be doing something else,” he says. “We built the processing facility with the idea that we can take advantage of any opportunity that exists in the future.”
Although the farm still grows bulk commodities, future plans include matching farm production to meet other niche-market opportunities, similar to what they are doing with malt barley. “We are looking to have production programs that are variety specific and tailor them to what end users are looking for,” says Mark. “We like having full control of the product right from the field, to closing the lid on the railcar, to delivering it to the end user’s doorstep.”
Although the goal is to continue to grow the farm businesses, Mark says it is also important to find a balance between work and family life with wife Cori, who also works off-farm as a psychiatric nurse, and young son, Landon.
One important element Pawluk says contributes to the farm success is the immense value of networking with his peers.
“Meeting people face to face at conferences and being able to pick up the phone and ask a question of someone who knows the answer has been really valuable,” he says. As part of that, he says it has been rewarding to be involved with the Outstanding Young Farmer program. “The networking is unbelievable. I think that’s the real strength of the OYF program. It’s fun to talk business and hang out with so many people who are all on the same wavelength.”