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Outstanding Young Farmers awards go to Alberta and Ontario

Diversified farming operations receive national recognition

Two completely different, but well-managed mixed farming operations in Alberta and Ontario were named as Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) in early December at the OYF national awards competition in Winnipeg, Man.

After winning regional nominations in their home provinces, Craig and Jinel Ference of Double F Farms near Kirriemuir, Alta., and brothers, Jordan and Alex McKay of Willow Tree Farms near Port Perry, Ont., were chosen as national winners from a field of seven regional family farms vying for the national award.

Craig and Jinel Ference

On their farm in northeast Alberta, not far from the Saskatchewan border, the Ferences operate what started out as a wheat field in 1985 into a diversified 4000 head cow-calf operation, 8000 head feedlot along with 13,800 of annual-cropped acres, 41000 acres of grazing land, and a custom farming business.

The Ference’s focus is to “work smarter and do more with less”, believing that diversity in many agriculture sectors is important to allow for success and part of their succession planning. They work to improve organic matter as they want to improve the land they will pass on to the next generation.

To grow and increase efficiency of the farm operation, the Ferences integrated corn into their operation four years ago; something Craig considers a “game changer.” The multi-use crop (for both grazing and silage) has impacted every area of their business. They also recently bought 62 quarters of land that will alter how their farm is managed over the next few years, as the larger land base allows them to pasture cattle on their own farmland on a permanent basis.

The Ferences also work to improve soil organic matter with vertical tillage, perennial forages and utilizing manure — all measures to improve the land they will pass on to the next generation.

Jordan and Alex McKay

To keep the large, diversified farm operating the Ferences secure employees through the foreign worker program, which is rewarding but not without a large learning curve.

In Ontario, over the years the McKay family farm has transitioned from a dairy to become a vertically integrated farm that focuses on farm fresh local food. In 2016 Willow Tree Farm Inc., near Port Perry on Lake Scugog, north of Oshawa, opened a 4300 sq. ft. retail year-round market complete with butcher shop, commercial kitchen and cafe. Jordan and Alex McKay say the farm goal is to create a one of kind “working farm” experience for customers while making the maximum use of the products it produces.

Jordan and Alex McKay say the farm goal is to create a one of kind “working farm” experience for customers while making the maximum use of the products it produces.
photo: Courtesy OYF Program

Jordan focuses on the “big picture” side of the business, which includes managing cash flow, profit, growth and staff. While Alex’s passion for sustainable farming has helped to increase the farm to 650 acres, employing more than 35 workers on an operation that produces 35 hand-picked crops, along with 65 sheep and 102 cows. Farm products are sold through 13 farmers markets, an on-farm retail store, and they’ve also established a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. They hold regular on-farm events like a maple syrup festival in the spring and September strawberry festival to help people learn about the food they produce. With a field-to-retail operation, the McKay brothers with the help of their spouses, Alyson and Kelty are always changing their operation to keep pace with markets and customer needs.

The OYF

These two farming operations, in fact all of the OYF nominees, are examples of progressive attitudes and skills of most producers today, says Franck Groeneweg, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers Program first vice chair.

“Alex and Jordan, along with their families, have successfully harnessed their complementary skills resulting in a multiplier rarely seen,” says Groeneweg, an OYF alumni member who farms with family near Edgeley in east-central Saskatchewan. “The Ference’s exemplify how previous family values continue to develop a culture of excellence, capturing opportunities that few others would dare to undertake.”

Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers program has for the past 38 years recognized the achievements and skills of producers between the ages 18 and 39 years across the country. At the annual national awards event, the regional nominees selected by judges in their respective jurisdictions are interviewed and present an overview of their farming operations to a panel of national judges.

Other outstanding farming operations showcased during the 2018 awards program included:

  • Tyler McNaughton and Sacha Bentall who have built Cutter Ranch, near Fort Steele, B.C. into a multi-species pasture to retail specialty meat operation.
  • Jordan and Jennifer Lindgren – Lindgren Farms, with a new, well-equipped farm shop, operate along with their family an 11,500-acre grain and oilseed farm near Norquay in east-central Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border.
  • Brooks and Jen White of Borderland Agriculture near Pierson, Man., have grown the farm’s bison herd to 600 head and adopted a regenerative production system that focuses on increasing.
  • With life-long dreams to be a dairy farmer, Philippe Laurendeau and Kristina Roarke of Warwick, Que., worked hard over eight-short years to eventually buy their own land and build a high producing dairy operation that now has a milking herd of 75 head with facilities for 110 head.
  • Robert Anderson and Jill Ebbett, part of Calvin D Anderson & Son Ltd, Glassville, N.B., produce high quality seed potatoes along with soybeans and oats in rotation. They also under seed crops with rye grass and red clover as a plough down prior to the potato crop.

Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers program is sponsored nationally by CIBC, John Deere, Bayer, La Coop Fédérée and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The national media sponsor is Annex Business Media, and the program is supported nationally by AdFarm, BDO and Farm Management Canada.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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