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Young cattle producers talk industry future

They are really just beginning their careers, but they're ready for the challenges ahead

As a fifth-generation producer, Chad Hollinger faces some of the same challenges as his great-great grandparents, plus a few new ones.

Hollinger, who is in his late 20s, farms with his father and grandfather near Neudorf, Saskatchewan, cropping about 3,700 acres of grain land and running 250 head of commercial and purebred Angus.

“Our land is well-suited to both cattle and grain,” Hollinger said during an interview at the 2016 Canadian Western Agribition.

Hollinger is a Lakeland College alumnus, and credits the Vermilion program for giving him practical knowledge in everything from animal nutrition to pharmacology. “It’s just a tremendous college in that respect, that it’s so hands-on,” he says.

Weather is always a challenge, as 2016’s growing season proved. Market fluctuations are also a risk. The Hollinger family is looking at marketing more steers directly to buyers, although auction marts are still a good option, Hollinger says.

Chad Hollinger poses by his Angus cattle at Canadian Western Agribition.
photo: Lisa Guenther

They also forward-price both grain and cattle. “You know what your payments are so you have to get some on the books.”

Marketing grain has given him insight he uses on the cattle side. He’s noticed how farmers tend to sell on the downward trend because they were waiting for prices to go higher. And it’s important to know the break-evens on both sides of the operation so he knows what he needs to sell at to make a profit or pay the bills.

Young producers ready for challenges

But unlike earlier generations, today’s producers face consumer scepticism. Hollinger sees a need for farmers and livestock producers to educate consumers. “That’s one big challenge because there’s a lot of consumer misperception,” he says. “Especially with social media and TV.”

Hollinger isn’t the only young producer who feels that way. Teresa Mann is finishing her last year at Lakeland College, where she serves as the general manager of the college’s purebred herd. Mann grew up on a commercial cattle operation, and has developed her own purebred Simmental herd. She plans to complete an animal science degree at the University of Saskatchewan after graduating from Lakeland.

Asked what challenges she sees ahead for young producers like her, Mann mentioned changing technology. But in her opinion, the big one is adapting to what consumers want while also educating them about food production. She sees a bigger role for ag advocates in the future.

Communicate with the public

Royce Moellenbeck, who is still in high school, agrees that his generation will need to communicate with the public. Moellenbeck said most of his classmates in rural Saskatchewan have a general idea of what happens on the farm, but even they miss some of the more subtle things. “They’ll call a straw bale a hay bale. Mostly things like that.”

Moellenbeck’s family raises purebred Shorthorns, along with commercial cattle, east of Humboldt. Moellenbeck plans to work in ag marketing and raise cattle. He’s been coming to Agribition since he was a baby, and notes it was the first year his family won Grand Champion Bull at the show.

Royce Moellenbeck tidying up at Canadian Western Agribition. Moellenbeck is up between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. so he can start fitting cattle for the show ring.
photo: Lisa Guenther

Agribition provided Moellenbeck with plenty of opportunities to talk about agriculture as families and school groups walked through the barns.

“A lot of them will have questions to ask about what do you do, what’s your role and stuff,” he says. Moellenbeck enjoys talking to people about agriculture and explaining what he does at the show.

Mann, a 10-year veteran of Agribition, was helping show Lakeland College’s genetics and programs at Agribition. She said she was getting plenty of questions from kids, adding “it’s great telling them what we get to do on a daily basis at school because it’s part of our learning program.”

Hollinger said he’s closing in on 20 years of attending Agribition. Hollinger tends to have more conversations with parents, but some kids were interested in what he was doing, too. He said he encouraged questions from the public.

“We’re here to market our product and really they’re the end consumer,” he says.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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