Farm more acres, expand the custom-fertilizer application business, or perhaps look at other options. Those are some of the choices ahead for Alberta farmers Robert and Angela Semeniuk, as they look at where their farm business is headed over the next five years.
Strong commodity prices are keeping land prices high, and there also appears to be growing demand for more custom farming services, say the Semeniuks, who farm near Smoky Lake, northeast of Edmonton.
“We definitely want to see the business grow,” says Robert. “But perhaps our goals have changed a bit. Changes in the marketplace which have driven up land prices have made us stop and think about our best options. I think all farmers today are faced with the same issue. High land prices are good on one hand, but at the same time what makes good business sense if you want to expand?”
Robert and Angela, and their young family, are the fourth generation on the Semeniuk grain and oilseed farm. Earlier this year, they were named Alberta/NWT regional nominees for Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmer Program.
Robert was born and raised on the farm. In the early 1990s he started with 56 acres and 11 head of beef cattle of his own. Today, the cattle are gone, but he and Angela crop about 3,500 acres of wheat, barley, canola, peas and oats. And, since 2009 they have been expanding their custom fertilizer application business.
“Robert has always been involved in some custom work,” says Angela. “When he was farming with his dad, they did some custom spraying.” Four years ago they bought one floater for custom applying dry fertilizer. Demand for services was so great the first year, they bought a second floater as well as a truck for hauling fertilizer.
The past couple of years Robert has custom spread fertilizer over about 25,000 acres and this year, if the weather held, he was hoping to bump that by about 40 per cent. “We’re aiming to do about 35,000 acres,” Robert says.
Along with being involved in the farm, and looking after the household and family that includes Gabrielle, six, and Tristan, four, Angela relies on her accounting background to provide consulting and bookkeeping services to clients.
“I think the biggest step we’ve taken is in our own personal development,” says Robert. “We’ve taken the time to figure out who we are as people, and to look at what we want, and what we can manage.”
An important part of that analysis involved participating in the CTEAM (Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management) program offered through the George Morris Centre in Ontario. “It is a very detailed farm management program that forces you to look at your operation and your skills, and your goals,” says Robert. “Through the financial management side of it we learned to treat our whole operation as a business, and that was a major factor.”
“The whole process really makes you look at yourself,” says Angela. “And that really gave us a push to develop our farm business as a business and become a viable operation.”
Those same skills will be applied as the Semeniuks look ahead to the next phase of business development.
The Semeniuks are collecting data that will be useful as the farm moves toward variable rate technology. Along with yield data, they also had their land scanned or mapped with “Veris-type” technology which uses soil electrical conductivity (EC) to correlate with soil properties that affect crop productivity.
“We plan to start slow with variable rate technology in 2013, and with our detailed record keeping system we should be able to properly evaluate it,” says Robert.
Along with farming the Semeniuks are also actively involved in a number of school, community and municipal committees and boards.
“It is important that we continue to push forward, continue to work on ourselves and our own development, and keep on learning,” says Angela.
“We certainly don’t want to stagnate,” says Robert. “We need to keep the business growing, even if it is just slowly, but take steps that make good business sense.” †